There is something ripening at the areca nut (doma) orchards in Sarpang. If the farmers’ group is successful in starting a doma processing unit, as planned, the benefits will be more than making the red-lipped doma chewing farmers and growers happy and the business more lucrative.
The group should receive all the support they can. Although the dzongkhag administration helped in procuring machines, the plan has hit a wall with no land to start the business and their application to lease government land blocked.
Doma is not good for health but with the economy it’s a different story. While we leave the health aspect to the consumer’s choice, the impact doma has on the economy cannot be overstated. For consecutive years, doma, together with meat and dairy products, are the main contributors to the increase in food prices and therefore, inflation. While doma is not an essential food item, it is among the essentials highlighted in the quarterly consumer price indices the National Statistical Bureau publish.
Import of doma is always on the rise, even during nationwide lockdowns. While for some, it is a bad and dirty habit, the repercussions it has on the economy should not be overlooked. According to trade statistics (2019), Bhutan imported 684.52MT (metric tonnes) of doma and betel leaves worth Nu 51.22M (million). This is in the light of most of the southern dzongkhags growing and exporting doma.
Those in the doma business say that businessmen across the border thrive on the nut imported from Bhutan. The trick is they import at a cheap price, process it and sell it back at a hefty profit. They know the demand in Bhutan as Bhutanese cannot live without doma. For them, it is a lucrative and secure business with many Bhutanese going nuts over the product.
If they (the group) can venture into processing doma big time, it could create jobs and lead to creating other smaller businesses. The dzongkhag already estimates that the plant will employ 15 youth. It will also encourage people to return to their abandoned orchards and make a livelihood instead of heading to the urban areas to do odd jobs.
The group is already talking of adding value to nuts that are only consumed with leaves and lime at home. Given our habits, areca nut-based products like supari (sweetened areca nuts) are in huge demand. There are a hundred varieties in the market, all imported and some expensive.
If such processing could provide a market to other cash crops like cardamom, that is all the more reason to support the farmer-group’s initiative.