Farmers harp on religious import, urge PM Modi to make betel national leaf

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Trying to strike an emotional chord with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, betel farmers have urged the central government to declare the produce as the national leaf, given its prominent cultural and religious significance in India.

The Rashtriya Pan Kisan Union has written to Modi in this regard and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has acknowledged their representation with the message that it would be considered.

Interestingly, the Union has also reminded Modi of the significance of in the context of his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi to buttress its claim noting that ‘Banarasi Pan’ was famous not only in India but the world over. However the proposal is for the declaration all kind of betel as national leaf.

As per the official data, exports doubled in five years from about $3.4 million dollars in 2011-12 to almost $6.8 million dollars in 2015-16. The export destinations also increased from 22 countries to 36 countries during the period.

The Union has also demanded that the horticultural crop of betel vine be also covered under the to insulate farmers from the vagaries of nature and resultant losses to vineyards.

“We have given several representations to the central and state governments to include betel vine under the insurance scheme, but nothing has so far been done,” Union general secretary Chhotelal Chaurasiya told Business Standard.

Betel economics vineyards spread over 100,000 acres in India Leaf exported to 36 countries Exports worth $6.8 million dollars clocked in 2015-16 Leaf is medicinal, aromatic; blends well with drink mixes He said if the Centre declared betel as national leaf, it would not only accord justifiable importance to the crop, but also improve the socioeconomic lot of the betel farmers across the country with institutional, financial and marketing support. The betel farmers have long been demanding framing of an exclusive national policy to provide easy availability of loans, fertiliser and farm inputs.

Currently, betel vine farming is done over 100,000 acres in India with Assam leading the pack with about 65,000 acres under the crop, followed by West Bengal and Karnataka with 11,500 hectares and 8,000 acres respectively. Uttar Pradesh has about 3,000 acres under cultivation at present, which is a massive trickle down from 6,000 acres a few years back, Chaurasiya lamented.

Betel vine farming is also prevalent in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Jharkhand.

In UP, betel vineyards are present in Unnao, Rae Bareli, Barabanki, Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, Ballia, Ghazipur, Lalitpur, Mahoba, Banda, Azamgarh, Hardoi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Amethi, Allahabad, Sitapur, Varanasi, Mirzapur and Sonebhadra districts.

Former UP director S P Joshi said possessed medicinal and aromatic properties and thus was conducive for food processing and blended with food items, especially liquid drink mixes.

Yet, the bulk of the betel leaf is consumed in the form of pan, which is a mixture of other ingredients and condiments eaten with the raw leaf as a digestive. “The processing of betel leaf has still not taken off in the country, although it has a lot of potential,” Joshi added.

The issue of betel farmers had attained national prominence under the (UPA) II regime after then vice president had visited betel vineyards on the outskirts of Lucknow on December 10, 2011 and assured farmers of help.

Then chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, P L Punia, had also raised their issue in Parliament, following which about Rs 45 million was allocated by the union agriculture ministry under (RKVY) to provide succour to betel farmers affected by crop loss. However, only Rs 20 million could be distributed among farmers.

Betel crop is vulnerable to intense cold and dew factor, which results in dried up leaves and decreasing the economic value of the crop.

In UP, a state level betel research and farmers’ training centre is functioning in Mahoba district, while the state government provides 50 per cent subsidy to betel vineyards.