Betel nuts worth Tk20 crore used to be produced in Noakhali every year but its cultivation is declining as many farmers are turning towards other profitable crops.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), around 5,500 tonnes of betel nut have been produced on 1,085 hectares of land in nine upazilas of the district this season.
Last year, 5,850 tonnes of betel were produced on about 1,100 hectares of land.
At least 200 farmers are cultivating betel commercially in different areas of nine upazilas of Noakhali.
Kamal Saha, manager of wholesaler Sudarshan Saha from Bank Road at Chaumuhani Bazar, said that although betel nut was sold well at some wholesale markets of the district, its supply to Chaumuhani Bazar, one of the busiest commercial centres of the district, was low this season.
"Earlier, 15-20 sacks of betel nuts were bought every market day, but now it has come down to three to four sacks. Betel nut supply to the market has reduced due to the decline in betel production in Begumganj upazila," he said.
Other wholesalers of Chaumuhani Bazar said that new houses are being built every year. In order to make room for new houses, betel orchards are being cut down in different areas. Further, the new generation is less interested in this business and this is also a reason why betel gardens are going extinct.
They said supply of betel nuts from the western part of the district's Sadar upazila to Chaumuhani Bazar has stopped which is another major reason for the declining supply in the market. The supply of betel in this market is decreasing as the traders of those areas are heading towards Chattogram.
District Agricultural Marketing Officer Shariful Islam Tushar said this season, betel nuts are being sold for Tk330 to Tk350 per kilogramme at each market of the district. This price fluctuates a bit every week.
Acting Deputy Director of the DAE Ayub Mahmud said the soil and climate of Noakhali are suitable for betel cultivation. Almost every upazila of the district produces betel nuts. Hundreds of farmers are involved in commercial betel nut cultivation.
"Betel nut has been cultivated on 1,085 hectares of land this season, producing 5,500 metric tonnes of betel. Wholesalers and exporters from different districts of the country including Chattogram and Cumilla procure betel nuts from Noakhali," he added.
The sources concerned said each farmer has three to four betel gardens and, on average, a garden has 1,500 to 2,000 betel trees.
Binodpur, Dadpur, North Goripur, Hakimpur, Zaman Nagar, Natunhat, Daserhat, Kaladrap, Munshi Taluk, Rob Bazar, Banglabazar, and Khaliparhat of Sadar upazila of the district are notable for betel production.
Additionally, Hatia, Subarnachar, Kabirhat, Khilpara under Chatkhil upazila; Amishapara of Sonaimuri; Charelahi and Charfakira of Companiganj; Eklashpur, Chayani and Rajganj of Begumganj; and Kabilpur and Mohammadpur of Senbagh are also familiar for its production.
At least 50 wholesalers are involved in betel nut trade at the Chaumuhani, Dutterhat, Goripur, Chatkhil, Basurhat, and Sonaimuri wholesale markets. Retailers from different parts of the district come to these markets to sell betel nuts.
Abul Kashem, a farmer of Kaladrap union under Sadar upazila, said, "I have about 2,500 trees in my betel garden, from which 4,000 pon [60 pieces per pon] of betel nuts are produced every season. I sell betel nuts at the market for Tk180-Tk220 per pon. Each betel tree yields for eight to 10 years."
Piyas Uddin, a wholesaler from Goripur Bazar of Sadar upazila, said, "Besides being involved in the wholesale betel nut trade, I have my own small betel garden with 500 to 600 trees. This season 1,000 pon betel nuts were produced in my garden. Each pon of betel nut sells for Tk220-Tk250."
According to a wholesaler from the same market, the betel season starts in October and lasts till mid-February. Sales are held at Goripur Bazaar two days a week where each pon of betel nut is bought for Tk180-Tk230 from the retail sellers.
After buying from the retailers, big and small betel nuts are separated and sold to exporters at different places including Cumilla's Chauddagram and Chattogram's Bariarhat, Hajirhat and Sitakunda.
The betel nuts that are left at the end of the season, soaked in water and sold to various retail shops. Some of these betel nuts are dried and sold at Tk400-Tk500 per kilogramme.
The wholesaler said it costs Tk140 per sack (40 pon) to send betel nuts to Chattogram. The betel nut is exported to various countries in the Middle East and India.