Sago is More Than Just a Halo-Halo Ingredient

Your favorite P5 sago drink can do more than just quench your thirst.

Apart from being an indispensable ingredient in “halo-halo” [an iced mixed snack], sago has been found to have many industrial uses, according to researchers from the University of the Philippines-Mindanao.

For one, the plant from which sago is sourced is considered the world’s biggest producer of starch, according to scientists.

Quick Facts:

  • Scientific names: Metroxylon amicarum, M. paulcoxii, M. sagu,
    M. salomonense, M. vitiense, and M. warburgii
  • Distribution: Southeast Asia, Melanesia, and some islands in Micronesia and Polynesia.
  • Size: Depending on species, 9-33 m (30-108 ft).
  • Habitat: Tropical lowland forest and freshwater swamps, usually found near sea level but can be found 1,700 m (3,2300 ft) with rainfall of 2000-5000 mm (80-200 in).
  • Vegetation: Grow with a wide range of species found in lowland freshwater swamps and in traditional swidden gardens in lowland rain forests.
  • Soils: Can grow on a wide variety of soils, including well drained, poor quality sand, clay, or a lava.
  • Growth rate: The growth rate is rapid, exceeding 1.5 m (5 ft) per year in optimal conditions.
  • Agroforestry uses: Coastal protection, improved fallow, homegardens.
  • Main products: Staple food, thatch.
  • Yields Under good conditions: M. sagu can yield 15-25 mt of air-dried starch per ha (6.7-11.1 t/ac) at the end of an 8-year growth cycle. Other species are somewhat less productive.
  • Intercropping: Interplanting for its non-food products is practiced extensively on many Pacific islands.

Extracting Starch
Sago palm uses its stems and trunk to store starch, which would otherwise be used for the plant’s flowering and fruiting.

Currently, experts at the University of the Philippines (UP) said they want to acquire additional facilities to be able to isolate genes from natural sago processors, such as the microorganisms and enzymes found in the guts of the “batud” a kind of sago pest, which scientists hoped to “express” in another bacterium for further studies.

This particular research, they said, is important in processing sago starch into other valuable products and byproducts.

A biotechnology facility is expected to jumpstart UP Mindanao’s research thrusts, which will also include a study on biopress technology for biofuel production.

For these projects and research, the UP Mindanao’s remote sensing laboratory will be used to determine the total area of the remaining wild sago stands in Mindanao and in other provinces.

Last July, the Visayas State University, in collaboration with the Japan Society of Sago Palm Studies, conducted an international sago symposium in Ormoc City.

The symposium aimed “to encourage the government and the private sector to work full blast in promoting the palm as a source of starch and feedstock for ethanol production.”

There are already two ongoing research projects on sago — “Nutrient and Water Balance for Sago Intercropped with Taro Inventory” and “Starch Profiling of Sago in Region 8.”

Meanwhile, the regional research and development priorities initiated by the Department of Science and Technology on sago cover sustainable palm development and management for starch and ethanol production.

UP experts are now intensively studying sago: its propagation, natural friends in the wild, its enemies and ecology in the wetlands.

These aggressive developments in enhancing the cultivation of the plant may soon propel the growth of the largely untapped local sago industry.

Pretty soon, rural farmers may also begin enjoying sago — this time, not just as juice or a “halo-halo” ingredient, but as a source of big revenues.

The experts believe that the prospective commercial and industrial uses of the sago palm can help uplift economic and social conditions in Mindanao. All parts of the plant are usable either for food or other industrial uses. It can provide an alternative to other agricultural crops grown by farmers with higher production costs. It also has a significant environmental impact to our ecosystem as it promotes and supports wetland conservation as well. It does not have to be cultivated because the mother plant produces suckers, which are harvestable each year and the next mature plant from the sucker is ready to harvest the following year.

For more information, contact:

The Office of Research – UP-Mindanao
Mintal, Tugbok Dist., Davao City
Tel. # (082) 293-1839; 292-1839
E-mail: [email protected]

source: inquirer.net, botany.hawaii.edu

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