Livelihoods at risk as PFA bans betel nuts

LAHORE: Imposing a complete ban on the sale of betel nuts (chalia, supari) will risk the livelihood of people associated with this business for decades, say traders of paan (betel leaf) and manufacturers of betel nuts.

They expressed strong concerns over the Punjab Food Authority’s (PFA) decision to impose a complete ban on the sale of betel nuts from April 30

A paan seller, Muhammad Shahbaz, told The Express Tribune that his family has been selling paan and cigarettes for the last many decades in Dharampura. “Today, our next generation is helping us. My father and uncle established this business over the years, but the provincial food authority has decided to impose a ban on one of the major ingredients – betel nut.”

Shahbaz said it seemed that the provincial food watchdog made the decision without considering how difficult would it become for traders in Punjab to earn a livelihood.

The PFA has given a 90-day deadline to betel nut sellers to wind up their businesses, he added.

“It is very unfortunate that government officials, who know nothing about running a business, are making important decisions. It takes years to establish any business. If the government really wants to close our businesses, it should also impose a ban on the sale of cigarettes in the province and provide alternate opportunities to all citizens associated with this trade,” he maintained.

A betel leaf and nut trader, Fahad Ali, stressed PFA should devise a mechanism to regulate the process and sale of betel nuts. “The imposition of a ban is not the solution, but it will encourage illegal trade and profiteering.”

He said continuous raids on paan and chalia traders have already developed a parallel grey market for these products. Earlier, chalia was available at Rs300 to Rs400 per kilogramme, but the government’s intervention has jacked up their price to Rs1,600 to Rs1,800 a kilogramme.

A herbal medicine expert named Hafiz Abdullah, who runs his clinic, said it is true that betel nuts have harmful effects on human health if they are consumed for a long period of time. However, he pointed out that betel nuts also have some positive uses. “Several herbalists use betel nuts in preparation of medicines.”

A sweet supari and mouth fresher manufacturer, Muhammad Salamat, also expressed his concerns over the PFA’s decision to impose a ban on betel nuts. He indicated that several companies have been producing different sweet supari products for several decades. “Over the years, a huge market has been developed of these products and thousands of people are associated with this trade,” he said. Salamat pointed out that the provincial food watchdog will badly affect the livelihood of many people.

The PFA Scientific Panel on Saturday decided to impose a ban on the sale of betel nuts in Punjab from April 30 onwards. The authority has given a 90-day deadline to all businessmen to wrap up their businesses otherwise strict action would be taken.

Earlier, PFA Director General Noorul Amin Mengal has said that betel nuts are one the major causes of mouth, throat, oral and stomach cancer. Their consumption also causes tooth decay.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2018. 

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