Tuesday 24 October 2017 News Updated at 07:10 AM IST
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Taiwan's battle with betel nut addiction - Deccan Herald
Taiwan's battle with betel nut addiction
Agence France-Presse,
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Green betel nut
For years Huang Sheng-yi helped feed Taiwan’s addiction to the betel nut, planting thousands of the trees on his mountainous farm. Today he has felled most of them, incentivised by the government to grow something else, as part of its push to reduce availability of the nut, which is a stimulant and also a known carcinogen linked to oral cancer.

But the green nut, which is often wrapped in a betel leaf spread with slaked lime to enhance the stimulative effect, is still ubiquitously available at roadside kiosks across the island and chewed by millions daily. The chance of a betel nut user developing oral cancer is 28 times the average person, according to the health ministry.

"Simply promoting the health risks is not enough. Betel nut chewing is too deeply ingrained in society,” says Chuang Li-chen, project manager at Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation, an NGO that offers rehabilitation services for oral cancer survivors. The government is attempting to reduce the amount of betel nut available as part of its plan to tackle the issue. It subsidises farmers if they convert to other crops.

Huang now grows oil-seed camellia which produces an edible extract often likened to olive oil at his farm in Lugu town in the central county of Nantou.

However, the 57-year-old says many are still hesitant to make the leap. It will be more than two years before he can harvest the oil-seed camellia, he says, and he is only able to stay afloat because he has another tea-growing business. "Farmers are reluctant because managing a new crop is much harder,” he said.

"There needs to be even greater guidance and incentives to really make a difference.”

Authorities concede the programme has not yet made a significant dent since it started in 2014. Of the 42,940 hectares of betel plantations on the island, only 435 have changed crops under the initiative, although more may have done so without government assistance.

At the height of its popularity it was known as "green gold” because it was such a lucrative crop -- second only to rice in value -- and many had come to rely on it for their livelihood. Its skinny palms still pervade parts of the rural landscape and flashing signs at roadside kiosks flag down drivers, although they are lower key than in the past.

Young women in skimpy outfits -- known as "betel nut beauties” -- often used to staff the stands are less common now after the government crackdown.