Betel nut farmers in Lakshmipur have set their sights on a lucrative year following a bumper production.
The district's rural economy is now thriving as wholesale betel nut markets are becoming busier by the day, with an overwhelming presence of traders from different districts of the country.
According to traders and farmers in the villages of Ramganj, Raipur and Sadar upazilas, October to December have been the busy three months of buying and selling betel nuts.
During spot visits to Mirganj Bazar (under Ramganj upazila), and Hayderganj Bazar (under Raipur upazila), betel nuts were seen sold at markets and at every corner of adjacent villages.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) sources, Tk342 crore profit is expected this year from betel nut trading in the district.
Local farmers and traders said Lakshmipur has around 20 large betel nut markets. During harvest, betel nut trading creates around 5,000 jobs in the district for labourers, drivers and traders.
They were satisfied with the prices this year.
Faruk Hossain Shihab, a farmer from Dalalbazar (under Sadar upazila) said that betel nuts are currently being sold at Tk130 to Tk160 per bundle (80 pieces).
Kamal Sikder from Basabari area (under Raypur upazila), said, "Although the dry season has not yet started, I have started selling dry betel nuts at Tk250 per kg."
Md Ruhul Amin, a betel nut trader from Ramganj and proprietor of Hayder Enterprise, said, "Three kinds of betel nuts are produced in the district: green, wet and dry betel nuts.
Riazul Islam Zakir, from Lakshmipur town, told The Business Standard, "There is not a single home in the district without at least 15-20 betel nut trees. If you look at Ramganj from an aerial view, the entire upazila will look like a huge betel nut garden.
Each betel nut tree generates Tk200 to Tk500 profit annually and every household sells betel nuts worth hundreds of takas every year."
Hayderganj, Khaserhat, Mollarhat and Mitalibazar in Raypur upazila, Mirganj, Panpara, Kanchanpur and Dalta in Ramganj upazila; Dalalbazar, Chandraganj and Mandari in Sadar upazila; Hajirhat in Kamalnagar upazila, and Alexander in Ramgati upazila are among the renowned betel nut markets in the district.
Traders and DAE sources said after meeting the local demand, betel nuts produced in Lakshmipur are sold to different districts, including Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna, Bagerhat, Bhairab and Mymensing.
According to traders, Lakshmipur's betel nuts have recently gained popularity overseas as well, and are now being exported to the Middle East, including UAE and Oman.
District DAE official, Md Abul Hossain said, "There are betel nut gardens on 6,876 hectares of land in 1,486 square kilometres of area in Lakshmipur, with an annual production of 13,000 tonnes.
"The estimated production this year will be 13,674 tonnes," he added.
Remarking that the soil and climate here are suitable for betel nut cultivation, Md Saleh Uddin Palash, plant protection officer of district DAE, said, "Betel trees next to agricultural land, or in private home yards, yield betel nuts worth lakhs of takas."
Professor Kartik Sen Gupta, district coordinator of cultural organisation Udichi, said the betel nut occupies a special place in Bengali culture. Distributing betel leaves at the end of a banquets is a popular ritual, and betel leaves lose their flavour without the nuts. It is also common practice to give guests betel leaves and betel nuts after a meal.