Betel leaf or Paan is widely consumed all over India. It has been a part of our culture since ancient times as betel leaves are required for most religious occasions as well as for consumption. The traditional medicine system considers it a plant with medicinal value. The shade loving betel vine is grown in various states of India like Orissa, West Bengal, Tripura, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and even the southern parts of India like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The tale of Green Gold
Betel leaves were once considered to be Green Gold by agriculturists owing to its high demand and high economical value. Although it is a labour intensive and capital-intensive job, it can produce great revenue for farmers.
Betel farming used to be a lucrative source of Income, especially for the Chaurasia community. The Chaurasia community has been traditionally engaged in betel leaf farming. Unfortunately, due to various issues like climate change and lack of interest towards farming in the new generation, betel farmers are not able to earn enough money for sustenance.
The Akhil Bharatiya Adarsh Chaurasia Mahasabha is an organization which is devoted to help in the upliftment of the Chaurasia community, especially the farming segment.
Going back to the fields
We talked to Mr. Ramesh Chaurasia, the president of the organization about how they plan to help farmers in increasing their income and motivate the youth to regain an interest in betel vine farming.
Mr. Ramesh Lakhulal Chaurasia said “Betel farming can be a huge source of income for the rural farmer because there is scope of high margin in this. We are trying to ensure that more farmers take interest in betel vine cultivation so that they can be made aware of the transformation it can bring to their lives. If the farmers are trained by the right experts, they will be able to increase their produce and income. It is well known that betel cultivation is labour intensive and needs some investment too. We try to spread more awareness about loan schemes and subsidies offered by the government. We educate the farmers about crop insurance because betel vines are extremely delicate and are often affected by unfavourable climate or pest/fungus attacks. Our efforts are ongoing and we are glad to see that we have positively affected the lives of generational farming families who were on the brink of leaving their ancestral profession.”
Requirements for growing betel leaves
The suitable soil can be sandy loam or heavy clayey loam. It should be fertile and should have good drainage because waterlogging causes the leaves to turn yellow and fall prematurely, causing great loss to the farmer. It needs high rainfall and shade to grow well. A humid climate suits the plant best.
Problems faced by betel farmers in India
Lack of capital
The biggest problem faced by betel farmers is the lack of funds. It is known that a substantial amount of money is needed to prepare the gardens, create a closed shady structure, buy sufficient bamboo, arrange irrigation facilities and to employ both skilled and unskilled labour. Most of the rural farmers do not have this money so they end up taking loans at high interest rates. This state of being in debt becomes a major problem for rural farmers who own small lands.
Natural calamities and climate change
This is has recently become one of the biggest problems faced by betel farmers today. The climate patterns have completely changed in the last few years. In just the last 5 years, high velocity storms in the month of March and April wreaked havoc on the structures under which betel vines grow. Another problem is of incessant rainfall in a very short period of time. These unpredictable rainfall patterns cause water logging and thus, the leaves of the betel vine fall off after turning yellow.
We asked Mr. Ramesh Lakhulal Chaurasia about the possible solutions for these problems so that farmers don’t struggle in the future. “We regularly organize seminars where we invite the best horticulturists to educate farmers about improving the techniques and methods of betel cultivation. Our team also tries to arrange low-cost irrigation systems so that farmers don’t have to pay a hefty sum for irrigating their fields. We also train the farmers in applying methods like multi-layered farming which protects the betel vine from pests and also allows better water management. We also educate the farmers to receive loans at reduced interest rates with government banks.”