Areca nut is a tropical plantation crop cultivated primarily for its kernel. This kernel is obtained from its fruit. Below you can see the raw fruits and the final areca nut.
Final Areca Nut
Areca nut is widely used mainly in the Asian and South east Asian population. It is normal that after having food in India people use areca nut along with the betel leaves as a digester in small quantities. Though usage of areca nut and its implications on the health is debatable it is still not a good habit to use it on a continuous basis. I really like to eat it occasionally whenever i have traditional south Indian home made dish usually during festivals or during family get together.
The areca nut farm can also be intermixed with banana, mango, jack, coconut, cocoa, ginger and pepper without affecting the main crop depending on the type of the soil, temperature and water availability.
Areca nut plant starts yielding from 7th year till it is of age 40. After that, it becomes uneconomical to maintain it. As the trees grow older, a smaller trees would be planted adjacent to the old trees to make the farm sustainable Harvesting season is usually from September till January in three phases. The dried areca nut is non perishable agriculture product and it can be stored for any length of the time.
Step 1: Getting ready for work
Day starts at around 8:00 am in the morning from where all the tools along with the people head to the farm identified for harvesting. The preparation step for this are many. The following should have been finished before this day.
- Fix the day and the farm for harvesting
- Inform the time and the place where the people have to come. The most important being the climber, catcher and the transporter along with the ground staff to carry.
- Inform all the people who can do the areca nut cutting job. Please remember this work needs highly skilled people who know how to peal areca nut. Keep in mind that the areca nut harvesting and processing is a complete people intensive work. It is difficult to be a one man show for this venture. It is a complete team work.
- Inform the person who knows how to boil and sun dry the areca nut.
Below you see a typical day where the people are starting from the farm owners' place along with the tools.
Heading towards the farm
Step 2: Harvesting the fruits from the tree
During the harvest season, the ripened fruits have to be harvested. Minimum two people with required skills are necessary to accomplish this. One professional tree climber with experience of plucking the fruits and another person who uses gunny bag to catch it when the fruits are falling down. Before the tree climber decides to pluck all the fruits, first he plucks only one/two fruits and indicates the other person to check it. The catcher tastes the fruit and indicates the plucker whether to go ahead or not.
A professional tree climber
Climber leg tools
Preparing to climb
Climbing to pluck
Step 3: Separating the fruits from the bunches
Once the fruit bunches are plucked from the tree, it has to be separated to get the individual fruits. This can be done simultaneously when the plucking process is going on. As the farm will be full of trees, unless there is a big enough space it'll be done on a rather flat place.
Women working at a farm
Farm owner joining the group for farm work
Separating fruits from the bunches
Step 4: Storing and Transporting
Once the harvesting is completed it has to be transported safely to the home. During one full day of harvesting in a typical farm of about 1 acre, you can get the yield of 14-15 gunny bags. The capacity of each gunny bag is 60 kgs. So, depending on the quality of the yield, you may expect around 800-900 kgs of raw areca nut fruits per acre. The normal process in these villages is to use the bullock cart to transport. If the quantity is more in the range of 30-40 gunny bags then the truck would be used to transport.
Harvested areca nut fruits from farm - Ready for pealing
Step 5: Pealing to get the Kernel
One of the most important activities in the entire areca nut processing is this step. The raw fruit has to be pealed in order to get its kernel. This has to be done within a day or two after harvesting. Otherwise, the cutting will not be easy at all. Since it is a heavy and intensive manual work, you need a minimum of 7-8 people working for an entire day to peal the arecanut raw fruits of 14-15 gunny bags (800-900 kgs). I've seen people working up to 12 hrs a day with little break in between continuously. But, I still feel the amount they get per day is very less (between Rs.150-200).
Highly skilled and dangerous work - Pealing areca nut to get the kernel
Raw areca nut fruits and kernel side by side
Step 6: Boiling the kernel
Immediately after the kernel is taken out, it has to be boiled with high temperature for minimum of 12 hrs. For efficiency purposes, two huge metallic vessels of capacity of 600 litres are being used as seen in the below picture. The arecanut kernel has to be filled in to the vessel mixing with sufficient water. Along with the water, the arecanut precipitate has to be mixed to get good color.
Ready for boiling
Preparation for boiling
Preparation under way
Precipitate to be used during boiling process
Traditional boiler for areca nut
Boiler filled with raw kernels
Step 7: Sun drying the boiled kernel
After boiling the areca nut kernel for about 12 hrs, another crucial step is to sun dry the boiled kernel. This drying process has to be done for minimum of 7-10 days. This is the last step of areca nut processing. Once the drying process is over, it can be packed in and kept for any number of days before selling it in the retail market. For every 100 Kgs of raw areca nut fruits, you can expect the final dried areca nut in the range of 13-15 kgs. After the entire process is over, you may get different kinds of areca nuts having different market values for each kind.
Boiling is over
Taking out the boiled kernels
Spreading the boiled kernels
Ready for sun drying
Another view of sun drying