Small shops and vendors of betel leaf have shut their business since the pandemic began
The betel farmers of Rajshahi have been reeling from financial distress, already exacerbated by the nationwide novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), when recent super cyclone Amphan and current flood struck and made matters worse for them.
Betel-leaf farming plays a vital role towards improving the socio-economic condition of people in many areas of the region as it has gained fame for the crop and its marketing.
As it is more profitable than many other crops for the farmers, its farming and acreage is increasing day-by-day.
But this year,betel vines of the district have been hit hard by flood, storm and rain. The strong winds have battered thousands of betel vines. Thousands of people in Mohanpur, Durapur and Bagmara upazilas of the district are heavily dependent on betel plantation.
Cyclone Amphan also destroyed a thousand hectares of cropland of the district.
Farmers said the amount of losses has been enhanced to a great extent as they are being forced to sell their betel leaf harvest at a lower rate compared to the normal time amid the pandemic situation.
Dabirul Islam, a farmer Mohanpur upazila, said production of the cash crop is very good this year but its retail price has been reduced abnormally in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier, a big size 64-leaf bundle was sold at Tk 70 but it is being sold at Tk 10-15 at present while the small size at Tk 2 to 3 against the previous Tk 50 frustrating the growers badly, he added.
Hasibur Rahman, another farmer of the upazila, said betel leaf could not be exported besides non-coming of traders and business from different areas this year due to the global fallout resulting in abnormal price declining of the crop in local markets.
Farmer Abul Kalam Azad of Halidagachhi village in the upazila said even the farmers are also failing to recoup the harvesting cost of the crop.
Small shops and vendors of betel leaf have shut their business since the pandemic began.
In Bagmara upazila, many of the betel leaf farming plots have become submerged due to the onrush of floodwater from upstream which is also damaging the crop.
According to the sources of Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), around 68,976 tons of betel leaf are produced from 4,311 hectares of land in the district every year valued at around Tk 3.61 crore which is higher than the seasonal mango marketing as betel leaf is a year-round crop.
Shamsul Haque, Deputy Director of DAE, Rajshahi, said Mohanpur, Durapur and Bagmara Upazila are the highest betel leaf producing areas in the district and around 69,228 farmers are involved in the farming.
He also said highest betel leaves are produced in Mohanpur upazila and the betel leaf is the main economic crop in upazila.
Entire farmers of Dhurail, Khanpur, Mallikpur and Mohabbatpur villages in the upazila are engaged in the farming, he added.
Living and livelihood conditions of more than one lakh people in the upazilas are dependent on the farming of the cash crop.
Local farmers became interested in betel leaf farming as they have been getting a fair price of the produce in the market for the last couple of years.
Farming of the cash crop has doubled this year only in Mougachhi village under Mohanpur Upazila. More than twenty farmers including Gaziuddin Sheikh, Abdus Salam and Altaf Hossain have set up a new ‘Baraj’ unit of farming this year.
Muhammad Ali, a farmer of Chandapur village under Bagmara Upazila of the district, has become self-reliant through betel leaf farming.
As the first betel leaf grower in his locality, Ali earned fame as a successful farmer in the region. His three sons - Aminul Islam, Abdul Hamid and Ali Hossain extend support to his works earnestly.
By dint of his hard work and relentless efforts towards the betel leaf farming, Ali built a concrete house for the first time in the area. Witnessing his success many of his neighbours became inspired and established ‘Baraj’ and they are now doing well.
Unfortunately, this year’s pandemic situation has brought devastation to the betel leaf farmers together with the promising sector, Haque added.