The Making of Arecanut Leaf Plates in Shimoga
The scenic beauty around Shimoga, a northern city of Karnataka, is breath taking! I discovered this during my road trip of Shimoga for 5 days. The city of course is a bit congested with buildings and roads criss crossing in a not so regular manner, but outskirts was soothing… lush green fields and dense rows of arecanut trees. During my road trip in and around the city I came across several patches of land neatly lined with arecanut trees.
Not only trees, I saw several houses running small scale units handling different parts of areca nut tree. This post is dedicated to this local product of Shimoga – Arecanut.
It is the arecanut farms which impressed me the most. Neat rows of arecanut trees, as if somebody had drawn a straight line and then planted the trees there. My guess was fairly correct but a slightly different process. Arecanut cultivation seems a little tedious in its initial years.
I was told by the young owner of one of the farms that the sprouts of arecanuts are grown in partial shade in small polythene bags for nearly 2 years. They are then transplanted to the fields/farms where they are meant to be grown. Here they are planted in rows with a minimum spacing of 2.75m between each tree. That explains the neat look of arecanut farms. Fruit bearing starts 5 years after planting them. And yearly there can be minimum 3 to maximum 5 harvests. 1 acre of arecanut farm land yields 14-15 gunny bags (each bag weighing 60kg) of the arecanut fruit. So farm owners do get decent income from their farms.
There are several household who are not involved in farming of these trees but earn their livelihood by processing the harvests. It is an interdependent existence of both growers and the processors of arecanuts.
Areca Nut Processing
The nuts procured from farms are sun dried for around 2 months. After that they are dehusked. I saw several women involved in dehusking these dry nuts with just knives. Only the slightly better off among them have machines to dehusk these dry areca nuts. After peeling them, these nuts are boiled in some decoction for a minimum of 12 hours to give the deep red color. And then left out in open again to dry. At the end of the day, women are paid depending on the quantity they dehusked. It is a daily wage system.
So how do they earn after all peeling is done? They get involved in cutting and slicing the boiled and dried nuts as per market requirements. In late December when I visited Shimoga the peeling and dehusking phase was on. They were sun drying the boiled and colored nuts. I could not see any cutting process.
Arecanut and its effects
If you have eaten arecanut you must have definitely experienced a ‘high’ of mild nature. This is caused by the ingredient Arcoline. Arecoline’s effect is comparable to nicotine. It is a mild stimulant and mood enhancer and also causes slight bronchial constriction.
Arecanut Leaf Plates
The benefit of farming these trees is just not the fruit but also the dry leaves the tree sheds. Today there is great demand for the dry leaves of arecanut trees in market. These leaves can be turned into bio degradable plates and bowls. At one little house, I saw how a whole family was involved in making arecanut leaf plates with machines. It is not whole leaves that is used for making plates but the sheath attached to leaf that covers the fruits. Raw material is sourced from the farms, cleaned and stocked in their house. These sheaths are left out on roofs to dry well. Cleaned leaves are then inserted between 2 hot plates. The shape of the hot plates form a kind of mould, and the damp leaf is heated to that shape.
From what I saw, I felt it is a very slow process and consumes lot of energy per plate. In an hour the young boy could make less than 20 plates. They produce these plates in bulk which are then supplied to markets. So much effort for a one time use and throw plate. I am glad I saw this whole process and I am now able to appreciate the arecanut leaf plates more.
Some facts on Arecanut production in India
- India is leading producer of Arecanut in the world.
- In India Karnataka leads other states in production, which is at whopping 47%.
- Again, in Karnataka, Shimoga ranks first in area and production, 23% and 21%, respectively.
- The nut derived from dried arecanut fruit is called Arecanut, Supari, Betelnut.