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Nsukka: Making fortune from palm wine

Felix Ikem, Nsukka

Wherever there is palmwine there is truth, so says a popular saying. From time immemorial, tens of hundreds of rural dwellers, especially in the South East, have depended heavily on palm wine tapping to eke out a living. It is therefore a common feature to see men climbing palm trees to tap palmwine.

Decades ago, palm wine tappers and sellers were seen as the least economically lively people in the society. But today, the situation has changed. A trip to some communities known for palm wine tapping in the northern part of Enugu State revealed that palm wine tapping has become a lucrative business running neck-and-neck with some other viable businesses.

On daily basis, trucks laden with palm wine leave the Nsukka zone to major cities, especially Enugu, Onitsha Abuja and Port Harcourt. Little wonder, one could see joints in cities with inscriptions like “Nsukka palm wine available” or “Nsukka palm wine sold here.” It is noteworthy that Udi people of the western part of Enugu State are also noted for their high quality palm wine.

Daily Sun investigations revealed that despite availability of beer and other alcoholic drinks, so many people prefer to travel from far places to Nsukka in search of unadulterated palmwine and this has influenced the economy of the area positively.

Besides, the vocation, it was also gathered has over the years helped parents in training their children to university level; some of them later became professors and accomplished professionals in their various fields of endeavour.
Daily Sun discovered that there are dominantly two types of palmwine in the market. The more popular one is got from a living palm tree (Nkwu Enu) while the second one is that which comes out from a fallen palm tree (Nkwu Ani).
At Umuida Enugu-Ezike, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, an acclaimed palm wine tapper, John Ugwu, told Daily Sun that he inherited the art from his father.

“My father was a great palmwine tapper. When I was young, I usually tapped palm wine for him when he went out for meetings and couldn’t come back on time. That was how I learnt the trade.”

Asked how many gallons of palm wine he can tap in a day, Ugwu explained: “This is not the bountiful season of palm wine. The month of October to January is the season for big harvest. This time, you can hardly get two gallons (10 litres). That is why this time around we sell two gallons almost for N12,000. Here in our community, some well-known tappers don’t dilute their palm wine with water and that’s why their own is very much sought after. Again, these renowned tappers usually don’t take their palm wine to the market because they are often booked ahead. Despite this, many people travel from Kogi, Benue, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos and other big cities to this town to buy our palm wine, which is seen as one of the best, if not the best, in the country.”

Ugwu said through the vocation, he feeds his family, train the children and do other necessary things.
“I don’t know what life would have been without palm wine. My sons are already learning the art,” he said.
At Amutenyi, Obollo-Afor, Udenu Local Government Area, another popular palm wine tapper, Simon Nnajiofor said he makes an average of N5,000 daily, but noted that the job is an energy sapping and risky one.

“Can you imagine that I climb more than 39 palm trees three times a day? I don’t even rest to enjoy the money. Before 4 O’clock in the morning every day, I have woken up to tap the palmwine and I don’t sleep until around 12 O’clock in the night. But the good thing is that I have achieved a lot with palm wine tapping. I have trained my three sons in the university, built sixbedroom flat and bought two plots of land which I will soon develop. You may wish to know that I hardly take my palm wine to the market place. It is usually booked. Some buyers who may be having one ceremony or the other come from our community while many others are from Kogi, Benue, Lagos and other big cities,” Nnajiofor said.

He revealed that the price of palmwine is not steady.

“Today you sell five litres at N2,000 but tomorrow it may jump to N5,000. Demand pushes the market,” he stated.
From him, Daily Sun gathered one of the tricks of palm wine tappers in fixing prices. Nnajiofor disclosed that whenever they see strange faces wielding big gallons in the palmwine market place, they would jack up the price immediately because they have seen that there is going to be more demand of the product that day.

A chat with Lawrence Nwodo, a big palmwine dealer at Ohodo community in Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area showed that in the palm wine market place, every good tapper has a particular spot he sells his product.

“Here in our community, we have different spots in the market place for different tappers. Renowned tappers have their own spots. If your palm wine is adulterated or diluted with water, you are not allowed to sell at these spots. Only well-known tappers are allowed to sell there in the market. Their price is always different and very high because of the quality of their palmwine. Those tapped from fallen palm trees are not allowed to be sold at that spot. Those who tap the real palmwine also tap the fallen one but one thing you should know is that the fallen ones have seasons like during harmattan period,” he stated.

Like his counterpart in Obollo-Afor, Nwodo has built a house and trained his children with proceed from palm wine.
“I have many customers outside Enugu State who depend on me to get best palm wine on daily basis. I buy and send it to them through waybill,” he said.

At Nsukka town, the commercial nerve centre of the zone, Arua Ifeanyichukwu, another renowned palmwine dealer told Daily Sun that he makes a living from the business, and explained that people prefer palmwine to other alcoholic drinks for various reasons.

“Since 1980, I have not taken any alcohol except palm wine. Many people take it for medicinal reason while others take it because it’s natural and has no side effects,” he stated.

Arua who is the Financial Secretary of Nsukka Palmwine Dealers Association, an umbrella body of all palm wine dealers in Enugu North senatorial zone told our correspondent that “though we the dealers are often being accused of adulterating the product, good palmwine is costly while adulterated ones are cheap. Nobody forces anybody to buy any particular one. It is your ‘pocket’ that will tell you which one to buy.”

Being a renowned dealer, Arua’s judgment on where to get the best palmwine could be taken as authoritative. He said Eha-Alumona community in Nsukka Local Government Area is known for good palmwine while in Igbo-Etiti, Ohodo, Umunko and Ekwegbe are known for good palm wine too.

“Formerly, many people tapped palmwine here in Nsukka town but because of urbanisation, a lot of palm trees have been pulled down. But in the whole of Enugu north senatorial zone, Enugu-Ezike is the best in palmwine tapping.”

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