I hail from Shimoga which is one of the important regions for arecanut fruit growers in the India along with surrounding villages . Since my childhood, I had many opportunities to visit arecanut farms and was curious to know how the processing of this tree fruit happens. Very recenly, during my break from work, I had worked along with other workers in the farm to learn and have the direct experience.
Arecanut is a tropical plantation crop cultivated primarily for its kernel. This kernel is obtained from its fruit. Below you can see the raw fruits and the final arecanut.
Arecanut is widely used mainly in the Asian and South east asian population. It is normal that after having food in India people use arecanut along with the betel leaves as a digester in small quantities. Though usage of arecanut and its implications on the health is debatable it is still not a good habit to use it on a continous basis. I really like to eat it occasionally whenever i have traditional south indian home made dish usually during festivals or during family get togethers.
Arecanut plant starts yiedling from 7th year till it is of age 40. After that, it becomes uneconomical to maintain it. As the trees grow older, a smaller trees would be planted adjacent to the old trees to make the farm sustainable. The arecanut farm can also be intermixed with banana,mango,jack,coconut, cocoa,ginger and pepper without affecting the main crop depending on the type of the soil, temperature and water availability.
Harvesting season is usually from September till January in three phases. The dried arecanut is non perishable agriculture product and it can be stored for any length of the time.Processing steps:
Step1: Getting ready for work
Day starts at around 8:00 am in the morning from where all the tools along with the people head to the farm identified for harvesting. The prepartion step for this are many. The following should have been finished before this day.
1. Fix the day and the farm for harvesting
2. Inform the time and the place where the people have to come. The most important being the climber, catcher and the transporter along with the ground staff to carry.
3. Inform all the people who can do the arecanut cutting job.
Please remember this work needs highly skilled people who know how to peal arecanut.
Keep in mind that the arecanut harvesting and processing is a complete people intensive work. It is difficult to be a one man
show for this venture. It is a complete team work.
4. Inform the person who knows how to boil and sun dry the arecanut.
Below you see a typical day where the people are starting from the farm owners' place along with the tools.
Step2: Harvesting the fruits from the tree
During the harvest season, the ripened fruits have to be harvested. Minimum two people with required skills are necessary to accomplish this. One professional tree climber with experience of plucking the fruits and another person who uses gunny bag to catch it when the fruits are falling down. Before the tree climber decides to pluck all the fruits, first he plucks only one/two fruits and indicates the other person to check it. The catcher tastes the fruit and indicates the plucker whether to go ahead or not.
Step3: Separating the fruits from the bunches
Once the fruit bunches are plucked from the tree, it has to be separated to get the individual fruits. This can be done simultaneouly when the plucking process is going on. As the farm will be full of trees, unless there is a big enough space it'll be done on a rather flat place.
Step4: Storing and Transporting
Once the harvesting is completed it has to be transported safely to the home. During one full day of harvesting in a typical farm of about 1 acre, you can get the yield of 14-15 gunny bags. The capacity of each gunny bag is 60 kgs. So, depending on the quality of the yield, you may expect around 800-900 kgs of raw arecanut fruits per acre. The normal process in these villages is to use the bullock cart to transport. If the quanity is more in the range of 30-40 gunny bags then the truck would be used to transport.
Step5: Pealing to get the Kernel
One of the most important activities in the entire arecanut processing is this step. The raw fruit has to be pealed in order to get its kernel. This has to be done within a day or two after harvesting. Otherwise, the cutting will not be easy at all. Since it is a heavy and intesive manual work, you need a minimum of 7-8 people working for an entire day to peal the arecanut raw fruits of 14-15 gunny bags (800-900 kgs). I've seen people working up to 12 hrs a day with little break in between continously. But, I still feel the amount they get per day is very less (between Rs.150-200).
Step6: Boiling the kernel
Immediately after the kernel is taken out, it has to be boiled with high temperature for minimum of 12 hrs. For efficiency purposes, two huge metallic vessels of capacity of 600 litres are being used as seen in the below picture. The arecanut kernel has to be filled in to the vessel mixing with sufficient water. Along with the water, the arecanut precipitate has to be mixed to get good color.
Step7: Sun drying the boiled kernel
After boiling the arecanut kernel for about 12 hrs, another crucial step is to sun dry the boiled kernel. This drying process has to be done for minimum of 7-10 days. This is the last step of arecanut processing. Once the drying process is over, it can be packed in and kept for any number of days before selling it in the retail market. For every 100 kgs of raw arecanut fruits, you can expect the final dried arecanut in the range of 13-15 kgs. After the entire process is over, you may get different kinds of arecanuts having different market values for each kind.