Thousands of betel leaf farmers in Cox's Bazar and Chattogram are now letting betel leaves rot at their plantations as coronavirus shutdown has slashed sales of the after-meal mouth freshener by nearly 80 percent.
The two districts meet the country's demand for sweet paan (betel leaf) adorned for wedding ceremonies and other social occasions.
The social events are not currently taking place because of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Paan shops in front of restaurants and eateries are closed too.
Paan traders say supplies to individual level consumers across the country have also been disrupted due to the ongoing nationwide transport shutdown. Therefore, buyers are not purchasing betel leaves from the farmers.
Chattogram alone had a daily demand for 1 lakh pieces of betel leaves from restaurants, weddings, social gatherings and corporate events, estimating more than Tk5 lakh sales per day.
"Virus outbreak has shuttered down everything," said Amir Ali Khokon who used to supply 25,000 pieces of paan alone in the port city every day.
Khokon had his own paan shops, and also supplied to restaurants and other events.
In the meantime, Chattogram's Banshkhali upazila paan growers' union president Mujibul Hosen Tipu said farmers in the upazila are not collecting the leaves from their farms owing to a drastic drop in sales.
"Banshkhali alone had weekly sales worth Tk25 lakh which has slipped to Tk10 lakh now. Farmers are not collecting the leaves now, instead they are letting those rot at plantations," he said.
Upazila Agriculture Officer Abu Saleh said betel leaves have been cultivated on around 130 hectares of land in Banshkhali this year. There are more than 1,200 paan farmers in the upazila, he added.
According to Chattogram Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), paan has been cultivated on more than 288 hectares of land in different upazilas in the district this year.
Deputy Director of Chattogram DAE Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman said Banshkhali, Lohagara, Patiya and Sitakunda upazilas of Chattogram are famous for betel leaf cultivation.
As many as 30,000 paan farmers in Moheshkhali upazila of the coastal district Cox's bazaar are also in a dire state.
Upazila Deputy Assistant Agriculture Officer Mohammad Kaiser Uddin said paan has been cultivated on 1,600 acres of land at Moheshkhali this year.
Farmers used to sell 240 pieces of paan for Tk700. Now the price is in between Tk150 to Tk200, said the agriculture officer.
Anwar Hosen, a paan farmer of Moheshkhali, said they are in a fix with the crop.
"Betel leaves rot if you do not pick them from the farm in time. But the sales is too dull that they do not cover the harvesting and farm to market transport expenses," he added.
Paans directly make their way to Chattogram's Rahattar Pool and Bahaddarhat wholesale markets from local upazilas. Nearly 45 wholesalers of the two markets supply betel leaves to Chattogram city and upazila retail markets.
"Prior to the shutdown, the daily transitions in Rahattar Pool wholesale market used to be around Tk1 crore per day. Currently, the daily turnover has fallen below Tk20 lakh," said Md Rafiq Sawdagar, senior vice-president of Chattogram metropolitan paan wholesalers' union.
Sanjid Shikder, another Chattogram paan wholesalers' union leader, said several wholesale shops at Bahaddarhat market have been shut down due to the business slump.