by Marie Kauna – EMTV Online, Port Moresby
Betel nut is an important cash crop known as ‘green gold’ by the Mekeo people of Central Province. Up until the betel nut ban, it was recognised as a chief income generator and was the only means that sustained the lives of the locals. Betel nut is highly respected and is traditionally used to welcome guests, friends and travellers passing by the local villages during special events and gatherings.
It is one of many items given as a sign of welcoming friends.
With betel nut’s economic benefits, the locals believed that ‘green gold’ was there for good and never thought of exploring and cultivating other cash crops. The mentality of betel nut being the only way to earn a high income became common, and provided locals with an incentive to grow plantation after plantation.
Betel nut became the only source of income for growers in and around Mekeo. Other introductory cash crops and opportunities brought into the village by representatives from the National Agriculture Research Institute were ignored and given little attention. The people’s focus was more firmly centred on growing betel nut rather than growing other cash crops.
As the years went by, no grower ventured into other forms of economic sustainability, as everyone had grown comfortable with the high income earned from selling betel nut.
During these good times, cash flow in the community and villages was high and people were living an expensive life. Money had become everything to them, causing them to ignore the possibility of a future without income from the betel nut trade.
Those who were wiser invested their money in their children’s education, but many others did not see the importance. Bride price was an important event that saw a lot of money spent, despite the apparent disadvantages. Consumed by the pride money had brought among them, locals never thought of the future or presumed the worst.
The imposed ban, as a consequence, brought the locals much suffering. The ban, imposed by Governor Powes Parkop, came into effect at the end of 2013 in a stout effort to curb pollution from betel nut spit in the city.
The effects of the betel nut ban caused a slowdown in cash flow in the community and made life extremely hard for many businesses and trade store owners. Businesses were shut down, leaving only a few in operation, and school fee costs have become an enormous burden for many parents.
With the coming academic year commencing soon, most of the locals, especially children attending college, particularly felt the difficulties in sourcing school fees. The ban made many realise the opportunities they ignored in the past. Growers continue to seek out viable economic options to move into a new phase of sustainability.