I arrived in the forest. I met the forest lord
He offers me bush meat
I am not here to hunt for bush meat
I journey deep down the ocean
I met the queen of the coast
She offers me fish to eat
I am not here to fish either
On my way back home
I met the palm wine tapper
He gave me some wine to drink
Sozzled and blotto I got home
And then I forget my sorrow
- David Adeyemo –
Nigeria is a country blessed with so many natural and agricultural resources. We are so much blessed that we seem to have these resources in excess as compared to almost all the countries in the African continent. Whether we’re using these resources to our advantage or not is a different ball game entirely. I recently stumbled on United Nation World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) website to check out some of the programmes it has lined up for the last quarter of the year. In the coming months, the apex tourism body will be organizing a wine tourism conference in collaboration with the Georgian National Tourism Administration. The press release on its website stated: “Georgia’s unique winemaking traditions date back 8,000 years and are considered by UNESCO as intangible heritage, making the country an ideal host for the Global Conference on Wine Tourism. The country’s recent success in attracting a growing number of tourists and its development of tourism products, branding and marketing, combine to present an excellent platform for sharing best practices, experience and knowledge.” Wine tourism, did you say?
What wine is better than our locally tapped palm wine? If you have ever been served palm wine in any part of Nigeria especially the west and the east regions, you would be able to testify that nothing beats the taste of our freshly tapped unadulterated palm wine. On the other hand, what beats my imagination is the fact that we’re not doing anything grand with this quintessential alcoholic beverage beyond just consuming it locally and may be a few exportations. We can still do so much more. And surprisingly, there is a huge market for this natural product abroad. The revenue generated every year locally is nothing compared to what we can earn as a country if we intensify exportation of this product. The product has the potential of generating millions of dollars every year if done properly and supported with the necessary marketing efforts.
Palm wine has many names it is known by depending on the region. For instance, in Nigeria it is called emu, oguro, nkwu enu, nkwu ocha, palmy, or tombo liquor. Palm wine is indeed indispensable in many ceremonies in some parts of Nigeria especially among the Ibo people. Guests at weddings, birthday celebrations and funeral wakes are usually served charitably. For instance, a young man who is going for his first introduction at his in-laws place is required to go with palm wine. Depending on the customs of various towns, there are specific gallons of palm wine required for such an event.
Sometimes, it can also be used as a healing agent. It is often mixed with medicinal herbs to cure a wide variety of physical illnesses. Many drinking sessions will often begin with a small amount of palm wine spilled on the ground as a token of respect to deceased ancestors. Women as well as men enjoy drinking palm wine. Although the former consumes it less often in public.
Palm wine tapping is both an art and a science. Ask our Ibo brothers in the East and the Yoruba farmers in the West. It takes certain specialized skills that are learnt over a course of time to be able to master the art and perfect it. It commands more respect than any other alcoholic beverage among the rural and urban dwellers in Nigeria. There are also other alcoholic beverages that are derivatives from fermented palm wine while some others such as Ogogoro (dry gin), Burukutu are locally brewed drinks made from guinea corn or wheat. There are different types of palm wine but the type that’s sourced from either Raffia palm or palm oil tree are the original palm wine. Although, they are a bit more expensive and considered the king of all local wines.
Here are a number of fun facts about palm wine in Nigeria: (1) Palm wine is usually the official drink for all traditional marriages. In fact, it’s in most times included in the bride price list (a list of items to be procured by the groom to-be before a woman is given out in marriage by her family). (2) Getting unadulterated palm wine is indeed very difficult; most are mixed with other drinks by greedy sellers to maximize profit. (3) In the rural areas, palm wine often accompanies (and usually the best drink) pepper soup, Ugba, Nkwobi and Isi Ewu (goat head).
Having looked at the great potentials palm wine wields and the inherent implication on our culture as a country, it is a course of wisdom to create festivals or conferences that will bring tourists from other countries to come into our country, considering the fact that we’re at a point where growing our hospitality and tourism industry is especially important. Organizing an annual Palm Wine Festival, or something of that sort will boost the inflow of tourists into our country which will directly contribute to the economy. For instance, more jobs will be created, more hotels, including those on Jumia Travel platform will experience increase in patronage, airlines will make more sales and several other attendant benefits. A typical festival will need about three to six months to plan and will gulp between N4m – N10m. But the ROI will likely triple the expenditure and once this becomes a yearly event, an additional source of income will definitely emerge.
Beyond hosting a palm wine festival or conference or whatever nomenclature we eventually come up with, I think it’s also important for public private partnership to promote, on a large scale, the exportation of unadulterated palm wine to neighbouring countries and major European countries. We stand to benefit immensely from its export. We only need to get the packaging right and voila, the orders will start coming in. However, before we start intensifying commercialization of this product, local promoters should make conscious effort to get as many Nigerians as possible to start making demands. Thankfully, ecommerce has changed the way everything is done. It’s not improbable for a seller to open a platform on any of the online marketplaces and support it with appropriate publicity. We will go beyond local consumption to selling to other continents. But first, we need to grow local demands for the product.
The journey to building our country to Africa’s number one tourist destination is filled with many road bumps. But every step we take should always be in the right direction. Else, things might just fall apart.