Dibakar Chakma, a quinquagenarian woman, has been running her family by growing betel leaf for almost 15 years. She has prepared betel barouj (betel field) on 20 decimals of land where she has planted 10,000 betel saplings with a cost of almost Tk80,000. She has already started marketing the betel.
Dibakar said the harvest of betel will continue till the month of Poush. A healthy betel plant can produce 80-140 betel. Good production and market price can help make a profit of more than Tk1 lakh.
As betel cultivation is more profitable than that of conventional crops, many people like Dibakar are cultivating betel in Khagrachari.
This reporter visited Panchari in Dhighinala district and found rows of betel baroujs. There are small and large betel baroujs according to the capital of the farmers. The betel farmers are passing busy days in taking care of and harvesting betel leaves.
However, the expense of betel farming has recently increased a little, said Juboraj Chakma of Panchari adding "A lot of chemical and organic fertiliser are required for betel farming. If insecticides are not used regularly, betel is attacked by various diseases. Due to a hike in the price of fertiliser and insecticides, the cost of betel production has become costlier."
Sumon Dey from Feni, a betel wholesaler who collects sweet betel leaves from Dighinala, Noukachara, Tobhangchara, Babuchara, Nunchari, said, "Once we had to depend on Moheshkhali and Bashkhali for betel. The production of betel has increased now and betel is sent to other districts."
Each bira (80 pieces) of large betel is sold at Tk100-Tk120, medium size betel is at Tk80-Tk90 and small betel is at Tk60-Tk70. Betel produced in Khagrachari is tastier and has relatively high demand in the market. The farmers get a good price too, he added.
However, the betel farmers said they do not get any help from the agricultural department that can help this potential agro-industry sustain. No officer or field inspector has ever visited any betel barouj. Though many baroujs are damaged by diseases, the farmers do not receive any suggestion from the agriculture department. As a result, they are experiencing loss.
Khagrachari Agricultural Extension Department failed to provide any information about how many hectors of lands are used for betel farming in the current fiscal.
Mortuza Ali, deputy director of the department, said the soil and weather of hilly area are suitable for betel farming. Betel is quite a sensitive plant. The most severe threat of betel is anthracnose in leaves. If taken care of properly, the farmers can make a better profit from betel farming.
District Agricultural Extension Department should suggest farmers regarding pest control of betel, he added.