Proposed betel nut ban raises unemployment fears in PNG


Papua New Guinea’s National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop has vowed to ban betel nut from Port Moresby streets and public places from October this year. Chewing betel nut is common all over Melanesia, particularly in PNG and the Solomon Islands.<!--more-->

The tendency of chewers to spit out the juice while chewing in public places causes ungainly staining on footpaths and the walls of buildings. Governor Parkop says the spitting of betel nut is not only making the city unclean but also spreads tuberculosis.

But local betel nut sellers say they will be put out of their traditional business that has been bringing them an income for generations if the ban is enforced. This is not the first time that the betel nut has been banned. Previous bans have tended to come a cropper because of the sheer popularity of the habit with the locals. Most betel nut chewing locals see the ban as an elitist fad and believe this time too, it will not get anywhere.

Radio New Zealand reports that an Australian National University academic, Tim Sharp, who studies the PNG betel nut trade, says it is worth between US$16 million and US$25 million to Port Moresby a year. He says a census from the year 2000 shows about 21 per cent of households in the capital region earn some income from the sale of betel nut, and 50 per cent in the provinces surrounding the city.

The ban will mean vendors will only be able to sell at markets outside of the city and will have to pay a fee to do so. The Governor plans stringent measures to control the activity.

He has even gone so far as to offer to spend $25,000 on importing a species of beetle to destroy betel nut crops in the country in a bid to permanently put an end to what he considers a menace.

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