11 Sep 2013

Livelihoods at risk as betel nut ban in Port Moresby pursued

5:06 pm on 11 September 2013

A former Papua New Guinea betel nut vendor says the chewing and selling of the nut is likely to go on as usual despite a proposal to ban it from Port Moresby's streets and public places from October.

But the Governor of National Capital District, Powes Parkop, says he will impose hefty fines on anyone importing betel nut, and push vendors out of the city.

Mary Baines reports:

The former vendor, Martyn Namorong, says a ban on betel nut is unrealistic.

"MARTYN NAMORONG: The governor doesn't have the capacity to enforce his plan. Because of its economic importance and the livelihood of many families there is no way they are going to give up their livelihood - it is unrealistic to think that betel nut will disappear from Port Moresby from October onwards."

Mr Namorong says policies banning it have never worked in the past - when vendors are driven away from selling in particular spots, they set up shop somewhere else. He says because the use of betel nut is cultural and addictive, the market will remain. He says Governor Parkop is pandering to upper-class voters who want the city clean.

MARTYN NAMORONG: Generally speaking, the betel nut ban highlights how far apart elite Papua New Guinea is from grass-roots Papua New Guinea; how out of touch they are with the reality of lives of people.

An Australian National University academic, Tim Sharp, studies the PNG betel nut trade, and 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 percent of households in NCD earn some income from the sale of betel nut, and 50 per cent in the provinces surrounding the city.

TIM SHARP: Particularly for the urban poor, it would have a really significant impact. The kind of incomes they are getting from betel nut are only maybe 5, 10 kina a day in which they are buying 10 fish for the evening meal, those kind of basic household needs, so depriving them of that income would obviously have significant impacts.

Governor Parkop says the spitting of betel nut is not only making the city unclean, but spreads tuberculosis. He says motor vehicles, boats and aircraft coming into the city will be checked and if found to be importing betel nut, they will be fined US$4,000. He says vendors will only be able to sell at markets in Laloki and Gaire, outside of the city, to buy and sell betel nut - and they will have to pay a fee to do so.

POWES PARKOP: The vendors, they don't pay tax, unlike the vegetable farmers who come in to sell their vegetables. They're going to designated markets, and they pay a fee and from that fee we clean the markets and where they vend. This is part of the problem with betel nut vendors. They trade anywhere, everywhere, anytime, 24/7. It's very hard to regulate them.

Governor Parkop says people will still be allowed to chew and sell in their own homes.

POWES PARKOP: For the last five years, we have been encouraging them to take betel nut back to their homes, and they can sell it there and they can chew it there, and they are responsible for the waste that comes out of it - especially people spitting and the skin. What is happening now is that they are passing the cost to the public and the public is paying massive amount of money week in week out, month in month out, to clean up this filth.

Governor Parkop says if vendors co-operate with the new regulations and the markets in Laloki and Gaire are kept clean, he might allow a betel nut market in the city. He says if the ban is not successful, as a last resort he will import a species of beetle that destroys betel nut crops - which will cost him US$25,000 to import.