A single leaf of betel can fetch up to one dollar in the international market, that is six times the maximum it can fetch in the Indian market, said an authority on betel leaf cultivation and professor of IIT Kharagpur Proshanta Guha.
Delivering the keynote address at a program organised by the Horticulture Department for betel leaf farmers here on Saturday, Prof. Guha said that cultivation of the valuable betel leaf, which could fetch a tremendous amount of foreign exchange and income, was not scientific in Andhra Pradesh. He said West Bengal was the largest producer of betel leaf in the world accounting for 30 per cent. Betel leaves were chewed in Bangladesh,Burma, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lankaand Thailand.
Calling betel leaf the “neglected green gold of India”, Prof Guha said that even gold had limited value when compared to betel leaf because the source of the metal was not unlimited like in the case of betel leaf. “The amount of gold even in a mine is limited, but when it comes to betel leaf there is no end,” he said to explain why he called betel leaf green gold.
He said farmers could harvest 80 to 100 leaves from a plant each year. Two to three lakh plants could be planted in one hectare.
The value of the total betel leaf produced in the country was around Rs 9,000 million per annum.
Betel leaf was, however, highly perishable after harvest. It was subject to spoilage due to dehydration and fungal infection. There was a loss ranging between 35 per cent and 70 per cent during transport and storage. Even the most conservative estimate of loss was 10per cent and that worked out to Rs.900 million, he said.
He urged the Andhra Pradesh Government to set up a Betel Leaf Development Center onthe lines of Tripura which was investing a lot to improve betel leaf productivity. He toldA.P. farmers that there was a need for more scientific cultivation of the commercial crop.The soil used for cultivating betel leaf should be less clayey and this could done by mixing sand in the soil. Protecting the crop from direct sun by providing shade, reducing the temperature using foggers and coolers and finally using post harvest technology reduce fungal infection were measures that farmers to take he said.
Scientists visit farms
Scientists and officials of the Department of Horticulture visited arecanut plantations affected by root worm disease at Koppa and Ullal villages here on Friday. They demonstrated the use of pesticides to control the menace. Horticulture College dean S.I.Athani and Shashikant Kattimani of the Department of Horticulture were present.