Preserve our dwindling sago palm
IF YOU ARE PLANNING to visit Butuan City in the Caraga Region, be sure to have a taste of “palagsing,” a unique local delicacy which is produced from the lumbia tree or sago palm ( Metroxylon sagu). The age-old tradition of cooking palagsing has been mastered in Barangay Banza, one of the oldest villages in Butuan, by 60-year-old Maurita Ariola Avenido who has been making the delicacy since her younger years after learning the artistry from her parents. The distinction of cooking palagsing in Barangay Banza can be attributed to the abundance of sago palm where the “unaw” or lumbia starch is harvested from the palm tree. It is mixed with the meat of young coconut and brown sugar to make the delicacy moist and chewy, and very nice and tasty to eat. Palagsing is like the common “suman” as it is also wrapped in banana leaves, but tastes very different – a must try for delicacy lovers.
According to Avenido, palagsing has been the main source of her family’s income, which allowed her and her husband Leonardo Avenido to send their children and their grandchildren to school. She says unaw has historically been among the staple foods in their area because the sago palm was so abundant, making unaw processing a vital economic activity in their barangay.
The commercial value of a sago palm is vital for the community because it is the main source of sago that is obtained from the trunk by washing the kernels by pulverizing the pith of the stem. During the earlier years, the rich starch obtained from the bark of the sago palm has become the staple food among marshland dwellers, particularly the indigenous people. The starch is also the source of commercialized sago which we commonly use in the preparation of halo-halo and other refreshing drinks.
However, the livelihood of Avenido and her family, including the other palagsing makers, is threatened due to the unregulated cutting of the sago palm and the conversion of the plant’s habitats into ricefields and other commercial purposes.
Sago palms grow well in humid tropical lowlands and can tolerate acidic soils. They are usually found growing on buffer zones in swamplands. The sago palm produces 200 to 300 kilograms of dry starch per stem, eight to nine years after planting, making it the highest-yielding perennial starch crop in the world.
In the wild, it does not require re-planting because it can propagate itself through suckers.
Due to its significance, sago is now one of the priority commodities of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Developmentof the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD) under its industry strategic program (ISP) because of its economic importance and high global demand for sago starch for industrial and medical purposes, earning it the title “plant of the future.”
PCAARRD has committed to support programs and projects for the development and propagation of the sago palm with their partners, not only on joint R&D but also on technical assistance, generation of information, and exchange of strategies and technologies.
Sago palm produces 200 to 300 kilograms of dry starch per stem, making it the highest-yielding perennial starch crop in the world.
Avenido while about to cook the palagsing.
Maurita Avenido demonstrates how to prepare palagsing, a unique and tasty delicacy made out of sago starch.
Palagsing looks as common as suman but with a distinct taste and texture, a must try for delicacy lovers.
Jamsey Perez of the PCAARRD-ACD shows a newly-cooked palagsing.