Hundreds of betel leaf gardens in Bagmara and Mohanpur upazilas in Rajshahi district have been flooded, causing losses worth crores of taka to the farmers, whose livelihood has already been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Rajshahi Agriculture Extension Department, the betel leaf business in Rajshahi is worth around Tk1,100 crore a year, and 68,976 tonnes of betel leaf was produced in 4,311 hectares of land in the district this year. 69,228 farmers of Rajshahi are involved in betel leaf production.
However, this year's floods have destroyed 20 hectares of land in Mohanpur and Durgapur.
According to the department, 16 hectares of betel leaf is produced in one hectare of land. If the average price of a bira (a bunch containing 64 betel leaves) is Tk40, the price of a tonne of betel leaf is Tk1.60 lakh.
So, betel leaf worth Tk25.60 lakh has been damaged in one hectare of land by floods, and the amount of damage in 20 hectares is worth Tk5.12 crores.
In 16 unions and two municipalities of Bagmara upazila, betel leaf is cultivated in 1,550 hectares of land. In many unions, the only way for farmers to earn a living is through betel leaf garden. Due to the increase in floodwaters in the upazila in one week, about 400 betel leaf gardens have been flooded.
Last week, a flood control dam of the Water Development Board of Laubaria village in Dwippur union of the upazila broke and flooded six nearby villages, causing severe damage to houses, crops and drinking water. After that, different areas started flooding due to torrential rains.
Siddiqur Rahman, a betel grower from Laubaria village, said he suffered a loss of around Tk5 lakh. Two of his three betel leaf gardens have been flooded.
The worst affected areas are Udpara, Baje Goalkandi and Senopara in Goalkandi Union.
Asadul Islam, a farmer from Senopara village, said two of his three betel leaf gardens were flooded.
About 300 betel leaf gardens of more than 100 farmers of the same village have been damaged.
Belal Hossain of Mohanpur in Rajshahi said, "I leased 10 kathas of land and made betel leaf garden two years ago. In the last 15 days, the garden has been flooded and the water has not receded, which damaged the roots of the plants. I have faced a loss of at least Tk50,000 and including maintenance cost the amount will be Tk1.5 lakh."
He said a betel plant lives for 40-50 years but waterlogging can destroy a plant permanently.
"I made the garden only two years ago. I have to make it again and a good amount of money is required at the initial stage of a garden," he added.
According to the victims, as the betel leaves are being damaged, they were forced to collect and sell betel leaf.
Nantu, a local betel grower, said the cost of labour is not rising by selling betel in the market.
Shamsul Haque, deputy director of the Rajshahi Agriculture Extension Department, said most of the betel leaf gardens in the upazila were damaged due to the collapse of the flood control dam at Bagmara.