Opinion of the origin of the areca nut is uncertain and has diverging views. Areca nut was most widely used by the betel chewers and historical records reveal that it originated in South India. Archeological evidence from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines suggests that they have been used for four thousand years or more. Areca nuts were a much priced trade good often referred also as “Gem Balls” and used as a form of commodity money. Until well after the Middle Age virtually all of the Areca nuts found in South Asia, Middle East and North Africa.
In Sri Lanka, Areca nut is mainly cultivated in low and Mid Country wet and intermediate agro-climatic zones. However a small acreage of areca palms can be seen in the dry zone too especially near large water lakes and along waterways. Total extent of Areca nut in Sri Lanka is estimated to be about 11968Ha. Matale, Kandy, Kegalle, Badulla, Ratnapura, Monaragala and Kurunegala are the major Districts from where areca nuts are supplied to the local market.
Climate – The cultivation of areca nut is mainly confined to tropical climates. The crop thrives well in humid areas protected against direct hot sun and heavy wind. Exposure of young plants to direct sun causes sun scorching. Altitude – Grow well up to 800M AMSL.
Temperature – Grow well within 24º – 36ºC and adversely affected by temperatures below 10ºC and above 40ºC. Growth and yield performances are better in humid tropics. Strong winds are harmful.
Rain fall – Can grow within 1750mm-4500mm average annual rainfall ranges. Wet climate with well spread rainfall are ideal for the growth. Areca nut plants are highly susceptible to prolong droughts and in such areas areca nut should be planted near permanent or semi permanent water bodies. There should be clear dry spell and a sufficient rainfall for flower induction and to facilitate pollination.
The fruit of the Areca palm, commonly called as areca nut, produces a ripened Yellow Fruits. It caters to different requirements.
- Locally marketed for the needs of the betel chewers. The betel chewers cut these fruits and remove the nuts to use it raw with the betel, lime and tobacco. It is mainly used for chewing with betel leaf in almost all South Asian Countries and in Many South East Asian and Oceanic It is a mild stimulant cause a mild hot sensation to the body. Nut is used both in fresh and dried forms.
- In Pakistan and India Fresh nut are cut and flavored to produce different products.
- In China and India Areca nut is used in the preparation of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines.
- In India powdered areca nut is used as a constituent in some tooth pastes.
Areca nuts are grown in throughout wet and intermediate zones for centuries hence there is a wide genetic variability in the Island. A large number of local selections are available in different growing regions but there are number of introduced lines as well. Germplasm, of 1206 lines, is available at the Central Research Station of the Department of Export Agriculture at Matale and several lines which give yield over 1000 nuts/tree/yr have been selected and released to the cultivators.
Planting has to be done with the on-set of monsoon rains. After the preparation of the field, young plants are established in pits of 60cmx60cm filled with the mixture of top soil and cow dung or compost. To facilitate remove excess water drainage channels must be built. When planting in slopes, contour planting is recommended. Application of organic manure is essential for better growth. Spacing – 3.0m x 3.0m (1100 plants /ha) Shading – Seedlings should be protected against the exposure do the direct sun light. Temporary shading can be provided by covering the plants with areca leaves, coconut leaves or polythene. Permanent shade can be provided by intercropping with banana, papaw or cassava etc.
In Sri Lanka farmers do not fertilize areca nut. But in India, where commercial areca nut plantations exists application of fertilizer is recommended to get a higher yield. Fertilizer recommendation:
Chemical fertilizer recommendation /plant/ year
100g of N (220g urea)
40g of P2O5 (200g rock phosphate)
140g of K2O (225g muriate of potash)
Should be applied in two split doses
12 kg each of green leaf and compost/plant/year
Fertilizers are applied in basins around the palm dug to a depth of 15-20cm and 0.5-1m radius leaving 20cm from the base of the palm. After application the soil is rolled up and covered with organic matter and soil. However, under Sri Lankan conditions, application of organic residues, green manure or compost at the base of the plant at the rate of 20 kg per palm in two split applications is recommended at the base of the plant.
Research in India has shown that cultivations free of weeds gives better yield
Mulching is a regular operation practiced in areca nut gardens in India. It keeps the plant base moist, reduces erosion and keeps the weeds under check. Chopped areca leaves and husks, grass or dry leaves are used for mulching.
No economically important pest and disease problems are reported.
Harvesting and Post Harvest practices
Areca plant takes 6-7 years for flowering but peak yield comes after 10-12 years old. Bunches of nuts are harvested at different stages of maturity based on the expected use. Usually in Sri Lanka matured nuts are harvested and used in a fresh form or in a dry form. If fermented, fresh nuts can be kept for about a year with out deterioration the fresh quality.
Average yield – 3-4 bunches/tree/year
Chemical constituents in areca nut are tannin, gallic acid and a fixed oil gum, a little terpineol, lignin, various saline substances and three main alkaloids namely Arecoline, Arecain and Guacine which have vasoconstriction properties.
Although many people know that Areca nut is mainly used for Betel Chewing purposes very few only know that Areca nut is used to manufacture natural Dyes. Even the Dyes used in the fabric drawings of the ancient times were natural dyes for which ingredience Areca nut Powder too had been used as one of the components according to the scrolls of the ancient times. As many do not know that the Carbon – black is the basic components to make printing ink many still do not know that areca nut powder is also one of the components used to make natural dyes. There is an ancient story to believe that the natural dye markers would have chosen the areca nut as one of the basic components to make dyes after observing the betel chewers mouths.
Some of the products that are prepared in Sri Lanka
- Chips One cut
- Chips Two cut
Processing procedure for each of the items received from Local Suppliers and Foreign done very systematically in the processing Units of each item under careful supervision in a spacious Factory.
Removing of outer pericarps and polishing (cleaning) and dehydrating or drying done carefully to insure the safety of the product and packing done after the quality control supervision is done within a temperature controlled premises. The labourers who are appointed to work in the Processing Units are provided with Uniforms, Gloves, and the Covers to prevent dust breathing and to be healthy without any sickness.
Process starts from receiving imports of commodities (Areca nuts) from countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore etc.