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NGH betel nut farmers write to CM over illegal smuggling from Bangladesh, seek immediate action

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Tura, Feb 26: Highlighting their plight in the face of incessant smuggling of one of the best selling cash crops of the Garo Hills region, betel nut farmers from the Bajengdoba region in North Garo Hills (NGH) have written a complaint to the CM, Conrad Sangma, seeking the immediate stop to the illegal acts for the sake of the thousands of farmers whose subsistence depends on its sale.

Representatives of the betel nut farmers, who till last year, were able to get value for their products, visited the office of the DC – NGH to submit their complaint today, Feb 26.

In their complaint to the CM, the farmers stated that with February being the prime month for the sale of their produce, they were waiting in anticipation for sellers from Assam to arrive. However when the entire month of February saw no buyers come to their area, worried farmers contacted them to find out what was wrong. They were then informed that the prices that were provided earlier could not be provided due to an excess of Burmese betel nut flooding the market, at lower prices for the processed nuts.

“When I called some of the buyers in Assam, they straight away told me that they could not buy from us as the rates were too high. The Burmese variety, that is being smuggled through the various routes of the state from Bangladesh and Myanmar were being sold at the price of Rs 260 (processed) whereas we cannot compete at that price due to the costs involved. This was the same in various markets in Assam, including Rongsai, Boko, Dudhnoi, Matia, Krishnai and others. We were shocked,” said farmer representative and plantation owner, Panseng B Marak of Bajengdoba.

The farmers stated that they were in a serious condition as their fruit would likely rot in the treetops as they could not afford labour costs to bring down the fruit from the trees. This comes after close to a decade of labour on their plantations.

“We have written to the CM seeking action against the illegal trade as it has literally brought us down to our knees. Earlier we were getting Rs 6500 (without labour costs) per bag of betel nut but now the entire region has not got anything above Rs 4000 per bag (with labour costs). If this continues, we have no idea how we are going to run our families,” said another representative, Rakman Marak.

Calls made to other parts of Garo Hills showed that the Bajengdoba farmers were not the only ones suffering. The entire region has been affected which has meant that lakhs have been impacted because of what is taking place under the noses of those that are supposed to protect the interests of those that they serve.

“Dadenggre, Jengjal, Siju, Baghmara, Rongara, Bajengdoba, Kharkutta, Rongjeng, Songsak, all of them have been affected by what is happening. For most of them, this is the best way forward to a better life not only for themselves but for their entire families. We just want this illegal smuggling to stop so that those that have spent years taking care of their plantations are not left to rue their future,” added Rakman.

Panseng appealed to those indulging in support of the smuggling of betel-nut from Bangladesh to immediately stop as their act was impacting lakhs of people in the state.

“The government had earlier encouraged betel nut plantations in all C&RD Blocks of the state and that is the reason why many farmers moved to this cash crop. For close to a decade they have been tending their plantation only to come up against something that they have no control over. We appeal to all of those who are involved in this illegal trade to stop immediately for the sake of the people,” he said.

While last year, the month of February was one of the busiest months for the trade of betel nut, this year has seen literally no move from buyers to even bargain for deals in Meghalaya. They simply don’t want it as the Burmese variety has flooded all those markets where they were trading.

Many places showed betel nuts sitting on tree tops at a time when there would be a beeline for the crop.

“Earlier you would see a huge number of vehicles lining up from Assam to buy betel nut during this time but this year we have had no one come to us. Our fruit, as it is with our decade long labour, is still on the tree tops as no one wants to buy it. At this rate there will be nothing else left for us than to burn down our decade long labour and move on to something else. Hopefully that too will not be allowed to go to the drain like this one is,” felt a farmer from Siju in SGH.

Another lamented the situation in Garo Hills where GHADC employees were out on the streets demanding their rightful salaries while farmers were being denied their rightful dues by a group of people more interested in their own benefit than that of the common man – just a handful getting rich at their expense.

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