The district officials of agricultural extension department informed this correspondent that there are small and large betel nut fields on around 1,100 acres of land in five upazilas under Panchagarh. Last season, 8,970 tonnes of betel nuts were produced in the fields. The agricultural officials are expecting a surplus in this season.
Chaitra-Baishakh-Jaistha–the three Bangla calendar months are considered as the betel nut cultivation season. In Panchagarh, a betel nut sapling planted in a courtyard, a tea garden or by the fields, matures within three years and then starts flowering. A betel nut tree requires biomass fertilizer and irrigation twice in a year at the most, and that’s it. Many Panchagarh farmers are now running their families expenses and cultivating other crops, with the money they make from their betel nut harvest.
From the beginning of the season, traders from other districts arrive in Panchagarh and hoard the betel nuts. They purchase the nut and bury those beneath the earth or soak these in water as the means of preservation. The traders sell the fermented betel nuts one or two months later, in Sraban and Bhadra, at a high price.
Currently all the Panchagarh markets are replete with betel nuts. The markets include Jalasi Bazar, Haribhasa hut, Tunir hut, Bhaulagnaj hut, Jagdal hut, Jhalai hut, Fakirganj Bazar, Bhajanpur Bazar, Maydandighi Bazar, Boda Bazar and others.
The agricultural extension department calculates the betel nut production in tonnes while the farmers calculate those in paan and kahan. Betel nuts are sold at the local market in paans. One paan is equal to 80 pieces of betel nuts while one kahan is equal to 16 paans. The price of each kahan of betel nuts is currently ranging between Tk4,500-8,000, depending on the quality, at the local markets. That means farmers are selling 80 pieces of betel nut at Tk300-500.
Farmer Soleman Ali cultivates betel nuts on 33 decimals of land (one bigha). While selling his produce at Jalasi Bazar, he told Prothom Alo, “Every season I can yield 20 to 25 kahans of betel nut. This season too sees a good harvest and a good market price.” Last year, the maximum price of betel nuts was Tk250. On the other hand, the farmers can sell well-grown betel nuts at Tk500 per paan. Soleman said that he would expand his betel nut field if the market seems profiteering.
One trader at Jalasi Bazar, Bulbul Ahmed said betel nut traders buy betel nuts from different local markets and sell those to markets in Dhaka, Noakhali, Mymensingh, Cumilla and other districts.
The traders can profit Tk400-500 from selling 2,560 pieces (two kahans) of betel nuts at different markets. They buy 1,280 pieces of (one kahan) at Tk4,500-8000 from the farmers and spend Tk200 maximum for transporting 2,560 pieces of betel nuts to other markets.
Bulbul said that both farmers and traders are cashing in on the good harvest of betel nuts this season.
Morshed Alam, one merchandiser from Noakhali, talked to this correspondent at the Jalasi Bazar. For several years, he collected betel nuts from Panchagarh. He said that quality of the Panchagarh betel nuts is good. “The price of betel nuts is comparatively high this year.”
Mizanur Rahman, deputy director at the department of agricultural extension in Panchagarh, said that the soil and weather of Panchagarh is suitable for betel nut cultivation. That is why the quality of Panchagarh betel nuts is very good. There is demand for Panchagarh betel nuts all over the country.
Farmers get a good price and so cultivate betel nuts on the ridges of crop field, in their yards and in tea gardens, he said.
*This report appeared on the online and print editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman