PNG CHEWERS GRIND THEIR TEETH AS BETEL NUT PRICES SOAR

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GOROKA, Papua New Guinea (August 5, 1998 - The National)---Betel nut prices here have skyrocketed in the past few weeks and many chewers are beginning to lose out on this favorite habit.

Betel nut prices have risen from an average of 10 toea per small nut and 20 toea per bigger nut to as high as 50 toea per average nut. (NOTE 100 toea = 1 kina. $US 1.00 = 2.3529 kina - August 7, 1998).

A small betel-nut that was selling for just 10 toea about a month back before the price hike is now going at 20 toea in the day and 30 toea at night or on a rainy day.

The 20 toea nut is selling at 40 toea while the bigger betel nuts are going for 50 toea. This compares with prices in Port Moresby ranging from 40 toea to 60 toea yesterday.

A street survey of chewers in Goroka found that many of them could not afford a good chew especially when the bigger fruit is selling for 50 toea.

Many chewers complained that they were being hard-hit by vendors and the only alternative was to stop chewing until the betel nut price returns to normal.

However, the price hike means it is good business for betel nut vendors. Several sellers admitted the prices of betel nut were high but reasoned that they were also being charged high by the betel nut growers and PMVs (Public Motor Vehicles) who bring in their 'buai' (beetle nut).

One seller from Chimbu province said that the betel nut price hike has been caused by the lack of supply of nuts from Markham, Lae and Madang.

She said sellers were now buying betel nut from Popondetta, Milne Bay, the Sepik provinces and Rabaul and middlemen who bring in the nuts charge high prices for freight and labor.

She said they were now selling betel nut in heaps of five small nuts for K2 and five big nuts for K4 because some chewers prefer buying them in heaps than buying loose.

Another seller from here admitted that she was not selling her betel nuts as quickly as she did about a month back and is becoming worried that chewers may give up completely.

Port Moresby chewers have been hit by high prices since the long weekend two weeks back, brought about by a shortage in supply from the traditional suppliers in the Mekeo area of Central province and Gulf province.

Meanwhile, there is a contrast in the supply of kaukau (sweet potato) at the markets here. Many kaukau farmers are selling kaukau cheap because there is surplus after the drought 'burnt' the soil and naturally fertilized it to allow the staple food to overproduce in quantity and size.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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