A Conversation with a Betel Nut Grove Farmer in Coimbatore
I enter the unbarred gate of the farmer who owns a grove of slim Betel nut (local “pak” or “areca”) trees.
“Please, may I come in?” I ask him shyly, armed with my Nikon D-90 camera.
He nods, busy watering a row of plants with his leaky hose. A beautifully-crowned rooster nearby screeches at the top of his glittery lungs.
There are many farms with neatly-planted rows of betel nuts and coconuts on the rural outskirts of Coimbatore, which was a city until recently known for its textiles (Tiripur, the most well-known city for textiles, lost favor to Asian counterparts Taiwan and China because of competition).
The farmer who has allowed me to photograph his waterlogged grove of hundreds of betel nut trees doesn’t really care where I go. I wander into the thicket and take a picture of the fronds above. A hut filled with what looks like sacks of betel nuts (six gradations exist) is nearby.
India’s national areca production is around 730m pounds, and small farms like the one I visit depend upon larger processing plants for their livelihood. A single acre can yield about 14-16 gunny bags of fruit, at around 132 pounds per bag; it is back-bending work, with hours of labor, boiling the nuts and drying them in the sun. But many Indians use this nut as a post-prandial digestive, in the form of “paan.”
I don’t see the farmer's wife, or any children, but I leave him to his work, thank him, and bolt the gate after taking one last picture of the sun fading into the crown of trees.