Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the price of betel leaves has plummeted and its growers in Rajshahi have suffered huge losses.
Farmers said they have had to sell the crop at a huge loss. Earnings from the crops are not covering the cost of harvesting betel from the baroj or betel leaf garden.
People have reduced their consumption of betel leaf and exports of the crop have stopped due to Covid-19. As a result, the supply has increased – that is why the price of betel leaf on the market has decreased.
Farmers said even though production was good, the large-sized betel leaf that sold for Tk70 per bira – a bunch containing 64 betel leaves – before the Covid-19 outbreak is now being sold for Tk10 to Tk15 per bira. Meanwhile, the small-sized leaves that sold for Tk50 per bira are now being sold for Tk2-Tk3 per bira.
However, Rajshahi, holds the record of selling a bira of betel leaves for Tk250 in the Bengali calendar months of Chaitra and Baishakh.
The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) said 68,976 tonnes of betel leaf have been produced on 4,311 hectares of land in Rajshahi this year. The price of a tonne of betel leaves is Tk1.60 lakh and on average, one bira of betel leaves is Tk40. In Rajshahi, betel leaves worth Tk1,103.67 crore are sold annually – which is a bigger market than for mangoes.
The DAE added that 69,226 farmers cultivate betel leaves in Rajshahi. Although it is cultivated in Mohanpur, Durgapur and Bagmara of Rajshahi, Mohanpur upazila has the highest production.
Rafiqul Islam, a farmer of Mohanpur, said the price of the betel leaf is very low as it could not be exported this year due to Covid-19.
Abul Kalam, a farmer from the same upazila, said a labourer must be paid Tk500 to harvest the crop per day. Due to the price fall, farmers cannot even earn enough money to cover the labour costs of harvesting betel leaves through sales.
Jahangir Alam, a farmer from Dhuril village, said the cost of producing, maintaining and harvesting on one bigha of land is Tk130,000 a year. It sells there for at least Tk3 lakh. This year it is becoming difficult to earn enough to cover production costs alone.
Regarding the price fall, Sumon Ali, a farmer from Amrail village in Mohanpur, said alongside the consumption decline, many people are selling more betel leaves than they usually do as low-lying areas of Mohanpur were flooded due to heavy rains. So, the price of the crop is decreasing.
Shamsul Haque, deputy director of Rajshahi DAE, said the betel leaf market in Rajshahi is bigger than the mango market. Mango is traded for around two months while the betel leaf is available throughout the year.
"Floating betel leaf shops, as well as some big shops, are closed due to Covid-19. Additionally, Rajshahi's betel leaves used to be exported to various countries of the world, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Now the exports remain closed due to Covid-19. For all these reasons, the price of betel leaf is a bit lower now," Shamsul Haque said.