Mohammed Solaiman Sheikh of Monirampur Upazila in Jessore is a 'Gachhi', which is a local coinage for someone who collects juice from date trees during the winter and makes a living from it.
His livelihood depends on sale of juice. "I collect date juice from 160 trees and can meet the needs of my five-member family throughout the year by it during the winter", he said.
Mohammed Abul Khair (51) of the same locality, who has 120 date trees in his possession, said: "I live on the earning from these trees the entire year".
Date juice is treated as a major earning source by most farmers in the region including those in Abhoinagar, Khejura, Monirampur Upazillas and other nearby areas under Jessore district, said Upazila Nirbahi Officer at Abhoinagar Mohammed Ameen.
But, the number of date trees is gradually declining in the region due to lack of new plantations and absence of government initiatives to nurture this traditional source of agro-income.
When contacted, Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) officials said they had no available statistics on the date trees and the number of manpower involved in date juice extraction in the district that enjoys an enviable reputation for producing high quality molasses.
Officials said that they do not even have any programme to motivate the farmers with a view to tapping its full potentials.
DAE sources and experts opined that Bangladesh could reduce its import-dependence on sugar by increasing the production of date juices.
At present, the total annual demand for sugar is 1.3 million tones with a 0.6 million tonnes shortfall.
Talking about the potential of date juice, senior citizen of Monirampur Sujit Karmakar said that the British used to produce 'crystal sugar' from date juice and a factory was established in front of poet Michael Modhushudan Dutt's home at Sagardari in Jessore.
MA Samad Miah, principal plant physiologist and principal investigator of Bangladesh Sugarcane Research institute (BSRI) told the FE that the institute had undertaken a pilot project under its own funds to conduct a survey in some selected Upazilas.
"We will conduct the survey through Sub-assistant Agriculture Officer and try to select good variety dates through this survey", he added.
He hinted that preservation of good date varieties across the country and conducting research on it is the main objective of the survey. "We need a national survey for getting comprehensive data as date is not only limited to selected areas, it grows more or less throughout the country", he went on.
Director General (DG) of the BSRI Salahuddin while talking to the FE said that shortage of manpower including scientists, lacks of funds are the main hurdles in conducting researches.
"We'll conduct survey on the preservation of date juice through preparing bottled and semi-solid date juice syrups so that the consumers avail it throughout the year", the DG said.
He underscored the need for a project for conducting researches and discovering new high yielding varieties of dates with a view to enhancing juice and molasses production.
Referring to government's plan to announce 2005 as date palm year, one official of the DAE said that announcing next year as date palm year with sufficient preparations will create enthusiasm among the farmers and commoners who could plant a sapling in their homesteads, one senior official of the DAE said.