Betel nut, the dried fruit of the areca palm, is so popular in Taiwan that it has been dubbed "Taiwanese chewing gum." It is Taiwan’s No. 2 cash crop after rice. An estimated 2.4 million Taiwan citizens regularly chew betel nut (10.9 percent of the population, compared to 9.9 percent in 1995 and 9 percent in 1991). Use is so widespread, you can get betel nut soap, betel nut liquor and even betel nut chicken feed. Binlang Islet in Taiwan was named after the betel (areca) nut.

Audrey Wang wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Taiwan's indigenous peoples have been chewing betel nuts for thousands of years. Archaeologists have excavated human teeth at 4,000-year-old dig sites near Kenting (at the southern tip of Taiwan) that were found to contain trace deposits of betel nut; the way the teeth were damaged is consistent with abrasion caused by modern betel nut chewing. Furthermore, ancient relics associated with indigenous tribes confirm the acorn-sized betel nut played an important cultural role for almost as long as people have inhabited Taiwan. Lavaus, a member of the Paiwan tribe, is unequivocal about the betel nut's place in modern Paiwan society. "Betel nuts are the most important things in our lives," she says. [Source: Audrey Wang, Taiwan Review, February 2008]

Betel nut is indigenous to Taiwan. It is particularly popular with truck drivers, construction workers and laborers who are given a lift by the drug’s stimulating affect. In Taiwan, betel nuts are slit open and filled with a lime paste; then a betel leaf (from an unrelated plant, the evergreen Piper betle) is wrapped around the nut. They are usually purchased at roadside stalls in bags or boxes of 20.

A traditional Amis tribe song goes:
Once a betel nut bag is worn
Once an elder wears a betel nut bag
What do you find inside?
Betel nut and betel leaf
And what can you do with these?
The elders use them to brush their teeth.

Betel Nut Traditions in Taiwan

Audrey Wang wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Betel nut chewing is a particularly important part of the lives of indigenous people in the southern and eastern parts of Taiwan. Users get hooked on betel nuts because of the tobacco-like buzz and hot sensation they bring, effects that keep users warm in cold weather and alert so long as they are chewing. [Source: Audrey Wang, Taiwan Review, February 2008 ~]

“In former times, indigenous elders could often be seen chatting around a table with a bamboo basket filled with betel nuts, betel leaves and lime paste as the centerpiece. In mid-conversation, whoever felt like having a chew would pick up a betel nut, slit it, fill it with lime paste, wrap it and enjoy. Although these days most betel nuts are pre-wrapped and prepackaged, elders can still occasionally be seen engaging in this ritual. ~

“Traditionally, indigenous women were bigger users of betel nuts than men. In addition to its stimulant effects, women were lured to chew betel nuts because the juice would stain their lips a pretty red hue. For indigenous people, an offering of betel nuts expresses welcome and acceptance. It is usually the first thing they present or exchange at a gathering. At weddings for many of Taiwan's tribes, betel nuts are seen as an auspicious symbol of union and fertility. Presenting them to the parents of the prospective bride is considered mandatory. According to Yami tradition, once a woman becomes pregnant, if her husband dreams of betel nuts, the newborn will be a girl. If he dreams of a betel plant, it will be a boy. ~

“Among Puyuma tribespeople, many of whom continue to take part in traditional rituals, betel nuts are seen as powerful medicine if blessed by shamans and lethal poison if cursed by them. Other parts of the betel palm also play a role in indigenous culture and beliefs. For instance, the juice derived from betel hearts — the core of a betel palm located in the upper third of the tree — is considered to be an effective home remedy. ~

Betel Nut Users in Taiwan

The Taiwanese government estimates that 17.5 percent of the adult male population in Taiwan uses betel nut. , according to government estimates. “‘’I use betel nuts to mark time and to keep myself alert,'' Shen Ting-hui, 28, a truck driver from northern Taoyuan county, who has been chewing betel nuts for 10 years, told Bloomberg. He buys from a a so-called betel-nut beauty, a saleswoman dressed in a blue shirt, white shorts and white boots, Shen said the beauties' visual sales pitch encouraged him to buy from them. “Of course I want to go to someone good-looking,'' he said. Teng Chun-han, 28, a truck driver from Taoyuan, told Bloomberg he spends 12 hours a day on the road and uses betel nuts to stay alert as bought some from a saleswoman wearing a short black dress and black boots. ’Eight out of 10 users will buy from betel-nut beauties,'' Teng said. [Source: Yu-huay Sun, Bloomberg, January 26, 2006]

Betel nut chewing in Taiwan is considered a working class habit often associated with blue-collar labor industries such a long-haul transportation, construction and or fishing. Workers in these industries use betel nut to stay alert at work and it also serves as vehicle for socializing with coworkers. Studies have shown chewing betel nut is prevalent among taxi, bus and truck drivers, who rely on it stimulating effect of betel nut to deal with long work hours and stay awake at the wheel. Not coincidentally, oral cancer is a leading cause of death among people in these professions. [Source: Wikipedia]

Qiu Zhen-huang, 54,a former gravel company worker, told the BBC: "I started chewing betel nut because everyone at work did it. We shared it with each other to build good relations." At a presentation to elementary school children of fishing industry workers, nearly all raised their hands when asked whether their parents or relatives chewed betel nuts. [Source: Cindy Sui and Anna Lacey, BBC, March 22, 2015]

Betel Nut Business in Taiwan

It is estimated that 70,000 farming families in Taiwan have some kind of stake in the betel nut cultivation according to Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture.

Most betel nut is sold fresh at around 50 US cents a piece, $1.50 for a box of five, or bags of 20 to 40 areca nuts at street-side stands that can rake in over $10,000 a month. The flourishing business has brought about more competition, lower sales and lower profits. To attract customers some stands have hired female vendors in miniskirts. Some stands are even covers for prostitution.

There are two kinds of betel-nut shops sell nuts and leaves, as well as cigarettes, beer and soft drinks: 1) Small mom and pop shops, often poorly maintained and with unassuming façades, and 2) booths or a single, free-standing rooms. The latter is usually elevated one meter above the street, and measures less than three by two meters. These are commonly identified by multicoloured — usually green — fluorescent tubes or neon lights that frame the windows or that are draped above a store.[Source: Wikipedia]

These booths typically have large picture windows that comprise two or more of the booths, allowing passers-by to get a good look at the brightly-painted interior. Often inside is a young, scantily-dressed "betel nut beauty", who can be seen preparing betel and areca nuts. Customers stop on the side of the road and wait for the girls to bring their betel and areca nut to their vehicles.

Growth and Decline of Bet Nut in Taiwan

Audrey Wang wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Before the late 1960s, the economic value of betel nuts in Taiwan was marginal. But both production and consumption grew rapidly through the 1970s until 1998, when overall production reached a peak value of NT$141.5 billion (US$4.2 billion). In 1990, it became the second largest cash crop in Taiwan after rice. Despite a recent falloff in production, it retains second spot. [Source: Audrey Wang, Taiwan Review, February 2008 ~]

“According to research conducted in the 1990s at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology (NPUST), as demand increased, farmers rushed to supply the burgeoning market. Bosses handed out the stimulant freely to blue-collar workers in the 1970s to increase productivity as Taiwan's labor-intensive economy gained momentum. As demand increased, rice farmers found betel nuts to be easier to cultivate than rice, and they began converting rice paddies into betel nut plantations. During the 1980s democracy movement, betel nut chewing became a symbol of Taiwanese identity and more people took up the habit. ~

“As evidence mounted identifying betel nut chewing as the single largest cause of oral cancer in Taiwan, the government launched its first national anti-betel nut chewing campaign in 1994. Nevertheless, consumption continued to climb even as successive campaigns raised awareness of the problem. But cumulative efforts have gained traction.

The number of people chewing betel nuts in Taiwan has been decreasing in urban areas and among younger generations. This may seem hard to believe considering the increase in the number of betel nut-selling stands many places. The trend picked up in early 2000s when Taiwanese authorities began making links between betel nut consumption and mouth cancer and claiming that production of betel palm trees, which have short roots, could cause mudslides in heavy rains. In the mid 2000s, the government launched a campaign against its use. By 2006, betel nut production had declined 30 percent from the 1998 peak. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 7, 2007]

Cancer and Problems with Betel Nut in Taiwan

Betel nut has been blamed for unsightly red spit stains on the sidewalls and streets, floods and health problems. The incidents of mouth cancer have increased ten-fold in the last two decades. Betel nut trees were blamed for mudslides and flash floods that killed nearly 100 people during a typhoon. The areas where the disasters occurred were in mountains, whose slopes had been planted with betel nut palms, whose shallow roots did not hold the soil or prevent erosion like grasses, shrubs and trees do. There were also disastrous landslides on slopes planted with betel palms during earthquake in 1999.

,"About 88 percent of those who suffer from oral cancer in Taiwan are betel nut chewers," Wu Chien-yuan, a Department of Health (DOH) division chief, told the Taiwan Review. Bloomberg reported: People who chew betel nuts, drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes are 123 times more likely to get mouth cancer than those who don't, according to Taiwan's Health Department. “Mouth cancer killed about 15 of every 100,000 Taiwanese men in 2003, making it the fourth most lethal form of the disease, department figures show. “There is sufficient scientific evidence that betel nuts can cause oral cancer,'' Liang-Jiunn, an oral and facial surgeon at Taipei's National Taiwan University Hospital, told Bloomberg. They also have been linked to asthma, diabetes and cancers of the esophagus and anus, he said. [Source: Yu-huay Sun, Bloomberg, January 26, 2006; Audrey Wang, Taiwan Review, February 2008]

Oral cancer cases in Taiwan rose from 1,790 in 1994 to 4,750 in 2004 , an increase the government blames on betel nut use. After a 2003 World Health Organization study linked betel nut use to cancer Taiwanese health officials launched a campaign against its use and called for health warnings on packages. By the late 2000s, some bags had warnings, but others did not as distributors often did their own packaging and the rules were lightly enforced. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2009]

The BBC reported: “Like most people, Qiu Zhen-huang, 54, was completely unaware of the risks. In 2012, “ago, a small hole developed in his left cheek and in just three months, the tumour grew to the size of a golf ball and completely changed his life. "Whatever I ate flowed out. I had a gauze pad over it. It hurt," he said. "It affected me a lot. I was so ashamed I avoided going out." [Source: Cindy Sui and Anna Lacey, BBC, March 22, 2015]

“Each year, 5,400 Taiwanese men like Mr Qiu are diagnosed with oral cancer or pre-cancerous lesions and an estimated 80 to 90% of those also chew betel nuts. An early symptom includes white or red lesions inside the mouth, but this can rapidly progress to grotesque flesh-eating tumours. Unlike other cancers, these are difficult to hide, leaving sufferers physically and psychologically devastated. "It's miserable for them," says Prof Hahn.

"Sometimes, even after surgery, they still can't perform basic functions, including expressing emotions through their face because the lower jaw also has to be cut depending on the scale of the cancer." Luckily for Qiu Zhen-huang, his cancer was treated and his cheek reconstructed. Cancer can take up to 20 years to appear.The Taiwanese government is helping people detect the disease more quickly by providing around one million free screenings and funding programs to help people quit betel nuts for good. In 2013, these measures helped cut the usage rate among men by nearly half. Critics argue that action should have been taken much sooner as the cancer risk of betel nuts has been known since 2003.

Taiwan’s Anti-Betel-Nut Campaign

In the mid 2000s, the Taiwan government launched an anti-betel-nut campaign. Bloomberg reported: “To combat the habit, Taiwan's government is running anti-betel advertisements and education campaigns, including betel-nut prevention days. Officials also are helping farmers to substitute orange and tangerine trees and Chinese herbs for betel crops. Nut production declined 17 percent to 143,368 metric tons in 2004 from a peak of 172,574 metric tons six years earlier, according to the Council of Agriculture. [Source: Yu-huay Sun, Bloomberg, January 26, 2006]

Officials are urging about 1.6 million users to quit. “We aren't very optimistic,'' said Wu Chien-yuan, a Health Department section chief in Taipei. ‘’We'll focus on preventing people from starting.''"About half of the men here still don't know that betel nuts can cause oral cancer," Prof Hahn Liang-jiunn, an oral cancer specialist at the National Taiwan University Hospital told the BBC. "[This is despite] Taiwan's incidence or mortality rates for oral cancer ranking among the top two or three in the world." [Source: Cindy Sui and Anna Lacey, BBC, March 22, 2015]

“Sellers are coming under pressure, too. The police are stepping up inspections of betel-nut beauties for moral and safety reasons, said Patricia Huang, a spokeswoman at the Ministry of the Interior. ‘’Their revealing clothing may distract drivers and cause car accidents, as well as prompt male clients to harass or even sexually assault them,'' Huang said.

“County officials are helping, closing down booths if they judge sellers' clothing to be too revealing, said Wang Yun-tsen, deputy director of economic development in Taoyuan, which is home to the country's largest international airport. “Taoyuan ‘’is the main gate of our nation,'' Wang said. The saleswomen ‘’aren't a good subculture and we don't want people to use them to attract tourists.''

Taiwan's 'Betel Nut Beauties'

Reporting from Taiwan, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Lee sits on a bar stool in a plexiglass box near a highway offramp in central Taiwan. It's late afternoon and the 29-year-old is dressed in a red negligee, a fake rose planted firmly between her breasts. "I work from noon to midnight, and it's psychologically tiring," she says. "Furthermore," she adds, pointing to her husband a few yards away, "he takes all the money." [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2009]

“Before you jump to conclusions, she isn't selling her body. In fact, she's using her body to sell . . .spicy, betel nuts. Leeis a "betel nut beauty," one of thousands of women along Taiwan's highways hawking the date-like fruit of the areca palm to truckers and other mostly working-class customers.

“Many of the women recruited by the booth owners are dropouts, single parents or runaways from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, says Christian Wu, an artist and scholar, named the unofficial "Minister of Betel Nut Beauties" by Taiwan's Art Critic magazine for her long-standing work with the community. "The average age is 14 to 17," Wu says. "By 20, you're often too old." Current and former betel nut beauties say owners give new recruits some basic tips on what to wear and how to act — let your hand linger when passing off the nuts, wear an oversized bra, smile, wave at motorists — but ultimately the women develop their own style.

“Competition can get particularly fierce, especially in summer, when harvests mean there's more to sell. But selling is about more than just looks. "If a new girl with a beautiful face shows up but she's stupid, there isn't much competition," says one seller who left the industry and keeps her past a secret. "But there are a fixed number of drivers coming by. And if she's got good sales skills, she can steal away 50 percent of the business."

“The exact origin of betel nut beauties is a matter of some debate. A recurrent story has it that somewhere around Nantau in central Taiwan in the early 1990s, two good-looking young sisters started selling the nuts on the roadside, wearing sleeveless outfits. That led to far better sales than their older, more homely competitors, and spurred copycats. In 1997, artist Wu traveled to the area looking for the sisters. "But wherever I went and asked, everyone there claimed they were the original beauties," she says.

“As the industry has become more successful — by some estimates earning hundreds of millions of dollars annually and employing 2.5 million people — it has drawn more critics and calls for regulation."There used to be a lot more betel nut girls," a seller in the city of Gueijen says between trips to the curb, dressed in a tiny black bikini with a gold belt. "But two years ago the police started cracking down on us for wearing too little."

Taiwan's 'Betel Nut Beauties' Business

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The practice has been cheered on by male customers, condemned by feminist groups, decried by health professionals and pored over by sociologists keen to understand the island's "betel nut culture." But the aggressive sales tactics are credited with jump-starting a ho-hum industry: Betel nuts have supplanted sugar cane as Taiwan's second-largest crop, after rice. "Basically, men are randy," says taxi driver Cheng Chunho, dipping into a plastic bag of "Hi Class Beetle Nut Crispy & Tasty." "I don't even like the stuff. But after a long day of driving, buying it provides a bit of excitement." [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2009]

Suggestively dressed women in neon boxes on lonely highways would spell serious trouble in most countries. But attacks are rare, a fact sociologists attribute to Taiwan's relatively nonviolent, reserved culture. Outsiders often assume the industry is a cover for prostitution. Although some cases may exist, experts say, doing 12-hour shifts in a glass box isn't exactly conducive to "the world's oldest profession," which is amply served by the island's many barber shops and escort services. "Everyone has preconceived notions, but they're not necessarily true," says Tobie Openshaw, a photographer who has chronicled this salacious but socially accepted world. "They are underdogs, misunderstood, real people with real dreams."

“Most stands feature glaring neon lights and a large mirror designed to draw attention to the women. Not exactly subtle, but it stops traffic. At which point the women teeter to the curb in their high heels, bend into the car window suggestively and hand over a couple of packets of betel nuts and a plastic cup for drivers to spit into.

“The businesses are legal, but many are owned by gangsters who bribe police to alert them of pending raids, allowing them to hide underage workers. Where women once faced pressure from heavy-handed owners, a commission system now puts more of the onus on the women to decide how they want to dress, allowing some to earn upward of $50,000 a year.

Self-Employed Betel-Nut Beauties

Betel-nut beauties are unique to Taiwan. There are tens of thousands of them. They are featured in tourist guides and particularly beloved by long-distance drivers. Bloomberg reported: “Betel-nut beauties emerged in the early 1990s as Taiwanese companies sought to cut labor costs by moving factories to China. Many of the beauties are unskilled workers who can't find better jobs because of that shift, said Robin Jai, dean of social sciences at Nanhua University in southern Chiayi county. [Source: Yu-huay Sun, Bloomberg, January 26, 2006]

“Taiwan has more than 100,000 betel-nut booths, Jai said. Artist Christian Wu, who said she interviewed more than 200 saleswomen during a 10-year study, estimates that 60,000 of the booths are run by beauties. “With not much money, I can own my business and wear beautiful clothes to work,'' said Lin Hsiao-wei, 35, who wore a leopard-print miniskirt as she dispensed betel nuts in the central town of Toufen. ‘’This is a good job.'' “Lin, a former garment-factory worker, said she sells NT$8,000 ($250) to NT$9,000 of betel nuts a day. Her booth cost about NT$150,000 to set up and her profit margin ranges from 33 percent to 50 percent, she said.

These beauties were not happy about the Taiwan government’s anti-betel-nut campaign. “While the Taiwan government's goals are modest — cutting the number of users by half a percentage point during the next four years — the beauties are not. “Our government is stupid,'' said saleswoman Yu Hui-min, 38, dismissing the notion that betel nuts cause cancer. She wore a brown shirt and miniskirt and red high heels in her neon-lit booth in central Taipei. ‘’In my home town, betel nuts are a treat for guests.'' Teng Chun-han, 28, a truck driver from Taoyuan, said the government should stop harassing the women, who are only trying to make ends meet.

Debate Over Taiwan's 'Betel Nut Beauties'

There a debate in Taiwan's academia over whether Taiwan;s Betel Nuts Beauties are being empowered or exploited. Feminists find it degrading, while health officials worry about increasing number of oral cancer cases. "There's an element of treating women like toys," says Wang Julu, a sociologist at National Tsing Hua University. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2009]

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Others, however, counter that condemning the trade is a bit hypocritical given that scantily clad women sell things everywhere, including designer clothes on runways. "These things exist in any society," says Hwang Shu-ling, a sociologist at Taipei's National Defense Medical Center. "After all, the U.S. has topless bars. The thing that makes Taiwan's betel nut industry different is that it's more extreme and it's all out in public." Jane Ke, 33, a high school teacher, says she's not particularly offended if the women wear tight clothes. "I wouldn't dream of sitting in a glass booth in my bathing suit, but those women have their financial concerns," she says. "It's their own choice, and I'm sure they work hard."

“Lee in the Taipei suburbs says many of her competitors wear far less than she does. "I don't show my sensitive bits," she says. "Even then, men sometimes yell at you. And some are psycho, even exposing themselves. When that happens, I just curse at them and try to tell them not to embarrass themselves." All the gawking can also create safety problems. "Guys are so busy looking, they crash," taxi driver Cheng says. “But in some cases, the women call 911 to report the crash, says Wang, the sociologist. "So while they cause the accident, they also help alleviate the damage."

Efforts Save Taiwan’s Betel Nut Culture

Some feel Taiwanese betel nut culture needs to be preserved. Some academics have started calling for the plant to be protected as it is an integral aspect of (Taiwanese aboriginal) tribal culture. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 7, 2007]

Audrey Wang wrote in the Taiwan Review, “ "Indigenous children and youths no longer follow the custom of betel nut chewing," says Lai Sang-song, chairman of the Department of Apparel at NPUST. Lai conducted interviews with 16 leading indigenous elders over the course of six months last year, after he undertook a five-year project to develop a new betel nut cultural industry for indigenous communities. This project, sponsored by the Council of Indigenous Peoples, immediately set off alarm bells at the DOH, but Lai thinks his objective is more pragmatic than simply eradicating betel nut plantations. "I am not promoting betel nut chewing or planting more betel palms, since we all know [chewing the nuts] is harmful to health," he stresses. "Rather, I am trying to guide the indigenous people to maximize the residual value of the betel nuts." [Source: Audrey Wang, Taiwan Review, February 2008 ~]

“Peng Ke-chung, chairman of NPUST's agribusiness management institute, agrees with Lai. "The plant itself is not evil," he says. "It really depends on how you make use of it." Based on Lai and Peng's reasoning, cutting down all the betel palms at once would deprive indigenous peoples of an important cultural symbol. Lai says, "Creating new opportunities from their existing tradition is the only way to get them to willingly reduce [their reliance on] betel nut plantations." Lai says once the transformation is complete, similar economic benefits could be achieved with fewer betel palms. "The alternative uses of betel palms can bring in bigger profits than producing betel nuts for chewing," he adds.

“Lai and Peng began their project by exploring potential new applications for betel nuts. They have shared their ideas on transformation with indigenous communities during their interviews with elders and in seminars. An expert in the area of natural dyes extracted from plants, Lai turned his attention to betel nut pigments. While visiting dyers, he came across Lavaus, also known by her Chinese name, Chen Yu-fang, who has operated a family dyeing workshop for about a decade. After learning of Lai's project, Lavaus agreed to use betel nut pigments in her business. She believes that in developing this new use for betel nuts, she is helping to preserve an important part of her Paiwan tribal culture. "My grandmother was a tribal princess," Lavaus says. "I feel obligated to pass our customs and values on to the coming generations."

“Lavaus is proud that while participating in this transformative process, she is also helping to protect the environment by using fewer chemicals in her workshop. The same pigment that is reminiscent of spilled blood after it is spat out onto the pavement is a brownish mauve when applied to fabrics in Lavaus' workshop. By combining her betel nut extract with catalysts, she can bring out other hues, extending into the blue range.

Betel Nut Restaurants, Boutiques and Dolls

National Pingtung University of Science and Technology and offices in the county have been exploring new applications for the plant. The university and local offices produced clothes and handkerchiefs dyed with the betel nut palm as well as dishes such as stir fry, soups and salads using the plant, which has a similar texture to bamboo shoots. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 7, 2007]

Audrey Wang wrote in the Taiwan Review, “More restaurants are adding betel hearts and betel flowers into their cuisine. Betel hearts are literally called "half sky bamboo shoots" in Mandarin for their similarity in flavor and texture to bamboo shoots, though they are sweeter and more tender. Handicrafts made using betel nuts have also begun appearing on the market as more betel nut production regions join the program. The thin thread-like fibers in betel nuts are woven and braided to make small dolls, for example. Other household decorations are pieced together using palm bark and leaves as materials.[Source: Audrey Wang, Taiwan Review, February 2008]

“Umass Zignrur, an elder of the Rukai tribe, was one of the elders who shared his cultural knowledge of betel nuts and betel palms with Lai and Peng. He welcomes the change. "We indigenous people have a long tradition of relying on nature for living," he says. "I hope to see our people once again become self-sufficient through the development of this new industry."

“Peng hopes to impart more than fabric-dyeing and craft-making techniques to indigenous people. For him, strategic planning and marketing are essential to the project's success. Peng thinks the key to marketing indigenous handicrafts lies in legends and folktales. "Just like with an LV [Louis Vuitton] handbag, what turns a product into something you don't really need but must have is the brand — and the story behind it," he says.

Giving Betel Agriculture a Boost

With production decreasing, farming families that grow the plant have been hard hit. As support measures for them, the university and local offices promoted on a trial basis a method of growing coffee trees at the foot of betel trees because coffee grows better out of direct sunlight." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 7, 2007]

Audrey Wang wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Another promising opportunity lies under the betel palms. Coffee, banana, loquat and other plants have been fruitful growing in the shade of betel palms. Peng says coffee plants and betel palms are a particularly good match. "Neither of the plants need to be fertilized," he says. "And the two plants have similar environmental requirements in terms of level of acidity and alkalinity in the soil." Lai hopes the understory crop plants can gradually replace betel palms as more farmers join the program. "Betel palms may very well be cut down when the right time comes," Lai says. "The farmers will no longer need them if they have something else to rely on." [Source: Audrey Wang, Taiwan Review, February 2008]

“Peng, the agricultural management specialist, has a somewhat different agenda. "The complementary plants grow much better under the cover of betel palms, especially when they are planted on a plain like in Pingtung," he explains. Although Peng and Lai differ on the ultimate objective, they are united in their desire to see indigenous people becoming more economically independent while remaining proud of their unique betel nut culture.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2022

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