‘Alternative use a must in view of the threat of gutka ban’

From ayurvedic oils, ointments and powders to industrial dyes, if arecanut can be exploited for commercial uses, areca cultivation can once again be lucrative, Shankar Bhat Bandaje, areca grower and researcher, has said.

Speaking at the first session of the State-level seminar on “Areca agriculture, a culture” held at Shree Bharathi College here on Saturday, Mr. Bhat said research on alternative use of arecanut was of importance, especially in the wake of the proposed gutka ban that would hit production.

He said the tannin content in the seed — to the tune of 24 per cent — could be extracted for use in the wine and liquor industry. “There is a shortage of tannin in Europe, and if this is done commercially, areca can be a valuable export,” he said. Tannin was being used to mature wines, and as tender arecanuts had almost nil content of harmful alkaloid, it was safe for edible use, said the agriculturalist, who has been associated with areca for the past 20 years.

Similarly, soft drinks, dyes and ayurvedic products could be made using arecanut. “Soaps, toothpowder, ointments and medicines can all be prepared using salts from the stalks of the areca leaves. In the olden days, sheets of areca stalks (the thick end of the leaves) used to be laid out as beds as this could prevent skin maladies in babies. My research shows that it can heal wounds, cure gangrene, eczema and others,” he said. An unlikely use of arecanut, said Mr. Bhat, was as an aphrodisiac.

The seminar was inaugurated by A.S. Bhat, former Managing Director of Central Arecanut and Cocoa Marketing and Processing Cooperative Limited (Campco), who said 14 States in the country cultivated areca, of which Karnataka and Kerala accounted for more than 75 per cent. Areca was cultivated in 140 taluks of the State. “

However, cultivation is in distress. Labour shortage is a problem. And with the financial yield reducing, younger people are not taking up areca cultivation,” he said.

Laying emphasis on the need for research and development into areca for its survival, G.V. Joshi, member of the State Planning Commission, said areca cultivation gave lakhs of people a livelihood and had shaped a culture in the region.

“Why benefits given to farmers growing vegetable, flowers and rice are not extended to areca farmers?” he said.

An array of products

In order to popularise alternative uses of arecanut, the seminar ‘Areca cultivation, a culture’ featured a small exhibit of soaps, mouth wash, ointment all made from extracts of areca.

The theme of the seminar even extended to the plates used during breakfast and lunch, which were made of the stalk from areca. Students of Shree Bharathi College also exhibited 15 varieties of areca which are cultivated in the State.

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