Kitul industry in sri lanka context

Caryota Urens is a species of flowering plant in the palm family, native to Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar and Malaysia perhaps elsewhere in Indo-Malayan region, where they grow in fields and rainforest clearings, it is regarded as introduced in Cambodia. The epithet urens is Latin for “stinging” alluding to the chemicals in the fruit.

The story of Sri Lanka’s most beloved sweetener starts with the Kithul, or fishtail, palm tree. Kithul (Caryota Urens) also known as fish tail palm or toddy palm, is an indigenous plant, naturally grown in the wild. The Kithul industry in Sri Lanka has a history that dates back over 2000 years. It is a unique industry to Sri Lanka because though the Kithul tree is grown in other countries they didn’t know the technology to tap the inflorescence and get the sap. Long before sugar came to the market Kithul was the main sweetener in Sri Lanka. It was a cottage industry that produced treacle, jaggery and toddy.

Once the Kithul flower is tapped, 2 time a day tapper needs to climb the tree to collect Kithul sap. Tappers are making sharp incisions at the base of a cluster of flowers that droop down from a branch like a bunch of grapes. This is Kithul syrup, or Kithul Peni, as it’s called locally. At its purest, it boasts woody, floral, smoky and even savory notes and is used widely in Sri Lankan cuisine. It is also further boiled down and set into molds, usually fashioned out of empty coconut shells, to make little blocks of Hakuru, or jaggery, a partially refined palm sugar used all over the island.

Kitul Tree

Kitul Tree

Kitul Syrup

Kitul Tapping

Kitul2 2

Ready for Tapping

Kitul Raa

Kitul Toddy

However, the story of Kithul is not as sweet as its final products due to following reasons.

  1. Deterioration of traditional tapping technology
  2. There is no formal cultivation system/programme for Kithul
  3. Industry depend on naturally grown Kithul trees.
  4. No industries have established from Kithul other than Jagarry or Pani.

Having noted above issues the firm has identified possible solution brought forward by stakeholders of the industry.

With the effluxion of time the industry faced challenges and traditional technology used in tapping deteriorated from generation to generation as people kept the formula a closely guarded secret.  As the demand for Kithul products is higher people used various chemicals such as carbide and battery acids to tap inflorescence. The success rate of a Kithul tree had dropped to 20-30%. Finally, the industry was in a crisis and on the verge of dying as the low success rate and lower productivity discouraged people from tapping the trees. Fortunately, ITI invented a solution called KASPER or Kithul Activation and Sap Production Enhancing Reagent. However, with KASPER, any Kithul inflorescence can be tapped successfully. Hence the success rate increased 80-100%. Similarly, the sap yield as well as tapping duration increased and with KASPER now a tree can produce nine liters of sap per day and the minimum tapping duration is 90 days.

KASPER has the ability to boost the sap secretion if the sap flow decreases or ceases. It can be used even during the rainy season and can be used by a person who doesn’t have experience of the traditional tapping method. ITI scientists have invented the technology to address some other issues that prevailed as a bottleneck to the development of the Kithul industry. The rapid fermentation quality of Kithul sap was one such issue. The ITI introduced a non-chemical method to address this issue and now the sap can be preserved up to seven days. This helps to transport the sap from the collecting centers to factories and scale up the industry. This technology will also promote the use of Kithul Sap as a drink.

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