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18 April 2014


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Michael - Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

I said in the article that the ban is justifiable. Both the vendors and people who chew the nuts have become careless to the point that their behaviour clashes with litter laws, and importantly raises public health concerns, thus the ban is justifiable (unfortunately because people derive their livelihood from the nuts).

From a sustainable livelihood perspective, the buai ban presents itself as a 'shock' or a 'risk' to those involved in the trade.

With few or no assets to fall back on, many buai vendors have found it harder to diversify their livelihood strategies.

They cannot simply abandon buai and go into other activities - for want of assets - including skills and knowledge to find alternative employment. (That's why people are smuggling buai into the city, because there are no reliable or sustainable alternatives being provided).

Does this then presents an opportunity to talk about other means of livelihood for the people?

Like many commentators, I feel for them, but again Governor Parkop and NCDC have been appealing to the better nature of both vendors and chewers to take responsibility for their activity and keep the city clean for all to enjoy.

That appeal through the media, EMTV, and using public funds to put up public notices has fallen on deaf ears.

As I am writing this line the ban is still in force, but there is a sense that the buai trade is making a comeback through the back door.

And I pointed to the fact that a few people have lost their lives trying to smuggle bags of the nuts through Laloki river and swamp. Suddenly the trade is becoming quite dangerous in some instances.

I do not use the word sustainable as it relates to logging and mining (as we know that despite their unsustainable nature always get nod to go ahead given their importance to the national economy).

The word "unsustainable" is used in a particular perspective and relate to the livelihoods of the people. The ban suddenly affects the buai trade in the city, and therefore in that sense only selling buai is not a sustainable means of livelihood.

I made a point also in the article that despite the windfalls from our resources, the country has not been able to invest some of that in areas where it will generate and support the livelihood of many people.

With each electorate given K10 million for the DSIP per year, could a percentage of that be used to start programs that support and encourage people to take responsibility for their own livelihoods in a more sustainable way?

That's an interesting and welcome observation, Phil. I've always seen POM as being one long buai stain spreading from Jacksons to Boroko and down Waigani Drive to Gerehu. Disgusting.

The problem in POM was not complicated. Citizens were simply being filthy and inconsiderate with their mess.

Vendors were also not taking responsibility and were allowed to roam freely because of the informal sector act, which essentially was helping to abuse city regulations.

If Powes' tactic has made people more aware of the need to observe sanitation and health regulations in the city then that's part of the way to keeping the city clean.

But a city is also a place where people are able to come to trade and earn incomes by their livelihoods.

A clean beautified city may be nice to look at, but if it's full of people unable to earn a decent income, that may turn out to be the thorns in bougainvillea hedge.

The betelnut sellers have set up markets at Laloki and near Roku across the harbour, just outside the town limits.

I haven't seen the market at Laloki but the one near Roku is going gangbusters. I went past one day and then about two weeks later and it had tripled in size.

People now go out there to get their buai. Where they chew it is another matter. Mosbi is nice and clean so they must be behaving themselves and doing it at home.

The rangers are on the ball and the teams of cleaners collecting rubbish is most impressive.

Perhaps there is a cultural shift going on in Mosbi.

Powes Parkop must have been reading Milton Friedman and picked up on his 'shock therapy'.

John, I'm afraid I don't follow your arguments very well.

Your title seems to me to be somewhat at odds with itself and although you have stated a number of key points related to both the betelnut industry and to need the for policies on alternative income activities, the one does not necessarily preclude the other.

In short, I don't beleive that betelnut trade is 'unsustainable'.

I have argued this in previous essays on the same topic (here and here

How does the buai industry flourish despite the ban in NCD?

By comparison, consider how the logging industry and open-pit mining flourish despite the known fact that they are unsustainable.

The simple answer is demand: what some people want, other people will find a way to provide, no matter what the legal, environmental, health or ethical implications may be.

I believe that we might do better by trying to understand the betelnut industry, which is a home grown business industry and seems to be working just fine without 'government interventions'.

The other factors you mention regarding environmental and personal health and hygiene, people seeking 'easy' income options, and the sad accidents resulting in death are real and related issues, but in my opinion, cannot be resolved by simply banning betelnut trade and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to go and 'find some other means of income'.

As you rightly state, "Can people adapt and promote other livelihood strategies? Without assets and opportunities they cannot! That is a fact."

If betelnut selling has been so succesful, how do we replace it with an alternative industry that not only enables decent incomes to rural people, but also empowers them to growing family fortunes and thereby making more sigificant contribution to the national coffer?

John, you brought us to an important point on food security. There are people in the highlands' villages whose livelihood have been threatened by flood,landslips, bushfire, soil erosion assisted through vertical drainage tradition and other cultural farming systems.

There are some government agencies and international NGOs assisting CBOs and churches to address food security issues in the highlands and may be elsewhere in PNG too.

As a result of such natural and man made change to the environment that they rely for sustenance, most people from the highlands have been been forced out of their villages to pursue other means for survival in urban centres in the highlands provinces and elsewhere.

These people quickly realise that betel nut vending is not only an easy and quicker way out for making money but it also didn't require deeper methodological thoughts and complex mathematical calculations and they don't have to go to school to do it properly.

A policy driven and systematic approach in providing life skills training and engaging people would be healthy for this country.

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