The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Date palm trees are disappearing throughout Bangladesh and with them, unique cultural traditions.

The icy wind around us tells us that winter has arrived in Bangladesh. Winter also means festivals. During the winter season, date juice, or Khejur Ras, is especially sought after.

For as long as anyone can remember, date palm trees have been cherished in rural Bangladesh, but their numbers are dwindling. Although there are scattered date palm trees throughout the country, date palm trees are more common in the southwest corner of the country.

In many parts of the country, villagers make various types of cakes with cane sugar from the fruit of the trees. There are countless scenes of children and elders sitting around making sweet or savory treats that are part of old cultural traditions.

A palm tree takes 10 to 15 years to mature and can produce sap for up to 25 years. A mature tree can yield upwards of 14 litres of sap in a single day. However, the amount of sap depends a lot on technique and the care of the tree.

You will be surprised to know that date molasses contains iron. Eating sugar cane made from tree sap regularly cleans the blood and maintains hemoglobin levels. If you feel tired or weak during the winter months, eating sugar cane can benefit you. Its carbohydrate compounds help digest food faster than simple sugars.

Unfortunately, many palm trees have disappeared in the last few years. “Gachhis” cannot support their families by selling juice and sugar cane. One of the critical reasons for the disappearance of palm trees is that fewer specialists known as Gachhis are available to maintain the trees. The sap has already disappeared from many parts of Bangladesh. One of the primary reasons for the decline in palm trees is that many people sell wood to survive, and no one has the foresight to plant new trees. Urbanization has also destroyed many palm trees.

Over the past two decades, the production of date palm juice has been on the decline. Climate change has also been a factor. Winter is arriving later and for a shorter period of time.

There is hope that the agency in charge of forestry will undertake massive replanting efforts across the country. Regretfully, future generations will unlikely get to experience the joys of eating sugar cane or drinking date juice.

We have to inspire and support our Gachhis. More needs to be done to protect this unique cultural tradition. Considering the economic, cultural, and ecological aspects of date trees, the government needs to be proactive.

Maruf Hassan is pursuing a Bachelor's degree from the University of Dhaka. Maruf works at the Dhaka University Research Society.