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Market troubles betel nut farmers

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SHILLONG, Feb 20: Meghalaya’s betel nut farmers remain trouble-ridden insofar as marketing of their produce is concerned, in spite of making a contribution of more than Rs 300 crore to the state’s economy in a single year.
Their plight was conveyed to the House by Amlarem MLA Lahkmen Rymbui on the third day of the Assembly session here.
Expressing concern over the loss of income by these farmers, Rymbui asserted that the farmers here are in need of a Minimum Support Price (MSP).
The total betel nut production in Meghalaya during the last four years has seen a huge jump.
In 2019-20, the cultivation was done in 18,231 hectares of agricultural field. The area has shot up to 34,410 hectares at present. The total revenue generated by the state through betel nut cultivation was a whopping Rs 382.22 crore in 2022-23.
Asserting that the data reflects that people of state are moving to areca nut cultivation, Rymbui, however, lamented that the price of betel nuts has been decreasing year by after year.
He told the House that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs recognises areca nut as a minor forest produce and the Centre has fixed the MSP for areca nut at Rs 200 per kg.
In her reply, Minister in charge of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Ampareen Lyngdoh said that the government is taking various steps to help betel nut farmers.
A total of 46 processing units consisting of working shed, de-husking machines, solar tunnel dryers and soaked pits are being set up across 21 blocks in 10 districts, she said. “The total cost of these is Rs 14.06 crore, while 34 units have been completed and the remaining 12 units will be completed in the coming months,” the minister said.
She added that Rs 10 lakh worth of interest-free working capital loan for aggregation and marketing of areca nut has been given to each of the 46 cooperative societies, while admitting that betel nut or areca nut farmers have also been challenged with incidents of bud rot disease in some areas of the state.
In 2021-22, planting material of short gestation crops like banana and pineapple were given to 3,581 farmers whose areca nut plantation had been affected by bud rot disease. “The same will be continued this year and an additional interest-free working capital loan will also be given. Spraying of bordeaux mixture will also be undertaken to prevent spread of bud rot,” Lyngdoh said.
On the surge of areca nut production in state, the Agriculture minister said that the department is ensuring to utilise the data effectively.
With regard to the debate about areca nut being unhealthy, Rymbui said that it has been an indigenous produce and a livelihood the people.
Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma, in a supplementary answer, said that areca nut being unhealthy is the basis provided by the central government, but their stand has always been that it also is an indigenous product and thousands of farmers depend on it for livelihood.
“It is our duty and we will continue to support (the farmers) in whatever way and keep augmenting in different ways that we can,” said the chief minister, while assuring the member that the government will the matter of MSP examined.
“The value of processed areca nut sells 10 times the price. Today, processed areca nut is sold at Rs 400-500 per kg, so we realised the way forward is processing areca nut. We will continue to expand and value addition is the only right way to move forward,” assured Sangma.
On a query by Rymbui, the CM assured that out of 46 processing units, two are being set up in Amlarem and an investment of Rs 1 crore has already been made in line with this cause.

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