By Robert L. Iroga

POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (Solomon Star, April 14) –Larry Jim’s teeth are shiny black, not because he uses a special tooth polish but from betel nut stain.

Betel nut stains are familiar to any Honiara resident who visits a betel nut chewing nation.

In Melanesia, PNG and Solomon Islanders chew betel nut; in Micronesia it’s Palau and FSM where you find the greatest betel nut chewers in the world.

And while Honiara residents are finding it hard to support the local market on numerous occasions, the FSM people don’t have such problems.

"We don’t have problems with supply, it’s just you that have to chew as much as you can," Jim said.

When told that Solomon Islanders are great betel nut chewers, Jim raised his eyebrows because he thought only FSM and Palau people chew betel nut in the Pacific.

Solomon Islands people are great chewers and betel nut is chewed from all corners of the country from Tikopia to Shortland in the west.

In FSM, betel nut is chewed with its skin(husk).

The FSM fruit is smaller and is chewed with its skin wrapped with leaf and lime.

"We chew everything at one time," said Jim when asked about how betel nut is chewed in FSM.

Unlike the Solomons where betel nut, leaf (fruit) and lime are put into the mouth at different times, FSM people include all three at once.

"The betel nut is small so we can’t eat it separately we have to wrap it with leaf and lime at once," he said.

He said almost half of people in Pohnpei chew betel nut because it is a healthy fruit.

"Most of my friends are serious betel nut chewers and they don’t have problems with supply.

"I grow a lot of betel nut and my friends grow their own too," he said.

Jim said betel nut is good because it keeps the mouth fresh as well as lively.

"When I feel tired I chew betel nut and then I feel better again," said Jim who is a hotel worker.

While betel nut growers in the Solomons target local customers, the betel nut is a source of export income in the FSM.

Betel nut is sold US$0.10 for one on the street markets while abroad the price is five times more expensive.

Jim said there is a huge market for betel nut in Palau from FSM.

"These people chew more betel nut than we do," he said.

And the FSM exporters are utilising that opportunity.

"We are the only country to export betel nut and we are getting good money from it," he said.

Jim said they are selling a betel nut fruit at $0.50 for one (SB$4.00) and for one bag of betel nut it cost US$400.

"This is good money," he said.

Jim said many people don’t work but they live on selling betel nut.

"Those people are getting better money from those of us who work," he said.

"If you send five bags that is US$2000 (SB$20,000), this is a lot of money."

Solomon Islanders are getting less money for selling their betel nuts.

Asked if Solomon Islands could export its nuts to Palau, Jim said there is potential but it must meet the taste of the people there.

"I have yet to taste your (Solomon) betel nut but I hope it will be of the liking of the people you want to export to," he said.

Jim said if the betel nut is of the choice of the people there then there should be no problems with buyers.

"I think you will make a lot of money out of this chance," he said.

If that idea is materialised then Solomon Islanders will surely benefit from this deal.

Solomon Islanders currently sell betel nut within the country with Malaita being one of the biggest suppliers.

One farmer said he would be happy to export betel nut to Palau if a market is secured.

As we ready to leave the hotel, Jim said "next time you come back again don’t forget to bring some Solomon betel nuts".

April 15, 2005

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