COVID-19 effect: Betel leaf growers of Andhra Pradesh fall in dire straits

Lack of demand has forced many betel leaf farmers to sell their produce for Rs 160 per basket and abandon the crops due to less demand.
Representational image (File photo| EPS)
Representational image (File photo| EPS)

KADAPA: They grow betel leaves in 10,000 acres in Kadapa district and a minimum investment of Rs 2 lakh is needed per acre. With restrictions in place on temples, weddings and other functions in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, betel leaf farmers are finding themselves in a tough spot due to a drastic drop in demand.

Market price for the produce has fallen so low that the farmers are not even able to recover their investment. Several of them are leaving their crops to rot in fields even as they look for alternatives ways to repay their loans.

Besides, they complain that middlemen have been exploiting them by denying them fair prices. Betel leaf is cultivated in Chennur, Khajipet, Nandalur, Railway Kodur and Rajampet mandals. If the yield is good, an acre will fetch 100 gampa (basket) and, if not, anywhere between 20 and 80.

Before the pandemic hit the country, there was a good market for Kadapa betel leaves in Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolhapur, Sholapur, Hospet and Hubli, apart from in the major cities of Andhra Pradesh. Summer season and the Sravan month are the times when the demand for the crop is in its peak as the frequency of functions rises.  

In late March, transporting the crop became a real headache due to lockdown restrictions. Most paan shops remaining shut and no weddings for five-six months only added to the farmers’ woes. "Though some shops reopened in August, their working hours were less due to enforcement of restrictions to curb the COVID-19 spread. Our problems continued," observed a farmer from Rajampet.

He explained that one gampa (basket) has 30 bundles and each bundle has 100 leaves, which normally is priced anywhere between Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 "Today, a basket is sold for Rs 160. Looking at the figures, one  can imagine the extent of losses we are incurring," he said.

To him, the only way to survive is if the government intervenes."We have suffered heavy losses over the past months and only the government can help us with repaying the loans we took for farming. Unlike other crops, betel leaves are neither covered by minimum support price nor by crop insurance," J Srinivasulu from Chennur said.

Zuhad, also from Chennur, said he invested Rs 4 lakh on his two acres. Due to lack of remunerative prices, he has left his crop to rot in his farm.

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