The future is here for the betel nut

Editorial

THE proposal by National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop to export betel nuts to Saudi Arabia is an idea that should be studied and developed.
For Parkop, redirecting betel nuts to the Middle East achieves for him one selfish end; the more that can be sent away the less that can arrive in Port Moresby where the capital city has turned a disgusting red from the spit of betel nut chewers.
Betel spit also has a more perilous role in the health of the nation, for while it does make the streets and footpaths filthy, it also contributes to the spread of tuberculosis if the spitter is infected. TB is an illness that is pandamic in Papua New Guinea and regarded as a national emergency, with
nearly 30,000 new infections a year.
Betel nuts are grown in Port Moresby’s neighbouring provinces of Central and Gulf and sold with the mustard to street sellers in the capital.
The income from betel nut sales is big with one retail seller able to rake in close to K500 a day.
Parkop’s plan is to cut off the street sellers and buy the nut directly from the growers at Mekeo and Kairuku, in Central, and Kerema, in Gulf, and export them to Saudi Arabia, thereby — hopefully — choking the market in Port Moresby and keeping the city clean and healthy.
Interestingly, an economist from the World Bank had earlier this month attributed the hike in inflation to betel nut sales. World Bank country economist Chandana Kularatne said there was a 34 per cent increase in betel nut prices in the year between June 2016 and June this year, keeping the rate of inflation at 5.8 per cent.
Like we said, betel nut is big business. A regular chewer will spend between K1 and K5 a day, depending on where the betel nut is bought and how available it is.
Also known as areca nut, betel nut is used in the Pacific, Southeast and South Asia, and parts of east Africa.
The betel nut tree is called areca catechu and belongs to the palm tree species and family of Arecaceae.
In Asian countries, it is a popular cultural activity to chew areca nuts for its stimulant properties and also it is used as an offering for many rituals and
spiritual activities in the Hindu religion. The seeds have a high percentage of alkaloids in them which prove beneficial for health if consumed to a limited extent.
Areca nut is one of the most important commercial crops in the Southeast Asia.
It is cultivated in palm plantations and the tree and the nut have a never-ending list of uses – like for chewing purposes, as vegetable, as medicine, as stimulant, timber, fuel wood, clothing, wrapping, lubricant and tannin.
When the nut is chewed along with the betel leaf, it increases the stimulating effect, although excessive consumption enhances the risk of cancer.
The areca nut is produced in two varieties – the white variety and red variety.
The first variety is prepared by harvesting the fully ripe nuts and drying them in the sun for around two months. The latter is produced by harvesting the green areca nut, boiling them and then peeling off the outer husk.
Production wise, India tops the list of major betel nut-producing countries followed by China and Myanmar.
India also leads the major betel nut-consuming countries’ list with almost all in the list made up countries from Asia.
Recently labelled as Asia’s deadly secret, the betel nut is consumed by a 10th of the world and is said to give people
a buzz on par with six cups of coffee.
If the idea of exporting can be harnessed together with how other exports are done, betel nut trading can generate millions of kina, not only for the country but for the growers, too.

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