BERHAMPUR: Betel leaf cultivation is no longer a lucrative avenue for farmers of Ganjam. Lack of Government support, frequent natural calamities and rising production costs have forced many betel leaf growers of the district to switch over to other trades for livelihood.
Apart from Odisha, betel leaves of Ganjam are in high demand in several other States. Golanthara, Randha, Panchama, Sunadei, Jugudi, Sihala, Singabadi, Tankia, Tamana, Chikarada, Sasanapadara, Chelia, Bayali, Mantridi, Sikiri, Hinjilicut, Chikiti and many other places in the district are famous for betel leaf cultivation.
However, there has been a sharp decline in betel leaf production due to the losses incurred by farmers due to successive cyclones. Betel vines were completely destroyed in the Super Cyclone that hit Ganjam coast on October 17, 1999. The situation further worsened after Phailin in 2013, Titli in 2018 and Fani in 2019.
While there is no crop insurance for betel leaf cultivation, the State Government too did not provide any compensation to the affected farmers after Titli. “Vines which are 12 to 15 years old produce best quality leaves. Since old vines were completely destroyed, we are not able to supply even the standard leaves,” said betel leaf cultivator Bhabagrahi Sahu of Golanthara.
Laxman, who runs a pan kiosk in Kamapalli area, said, “Prior to 1999 Super Cyclone, we were charging
50 paise per each ‘Siba Zarda’ or ‘Deluxe’ paan. But now, a customer has to pay `4 for the same.”
N Tarini Reddy, a betel leaf farmer of Kotharsingh, said high production cost of betel leaves and advent of gutkha, zarda and masala pouches in the market have multiplied the distress of farmers. While the cost of agricultural equipment has risen, the rate of the leaves is static, he said.
Adding to the woes of farmers, the cost of bamboo, which is essential for growing betel leaves, has skyrocketed. A bundle of 1,000 pieces of bamboo was being sold at `150 to `200 during 1970s. Now, it costs `8,000.
This apart, lack of patronage from the Agriculture department is another reason for farmers distancing themselves from betel leaf cultivation.