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The Full Story

The Betel Farmers

The scientific name for betel leaf is Piper betel, part of the Piperaceae family (Sandeep Kumar, 2012). Known for its unique taste, Mysore betel (Chigurele) is highly favored. Globally, about 600 million people consume betel quids, reflecting its significant cultural and dietary role (Fig.2). Renowned for its medicinal properties in the Ayurvedic system, betel leaves are also valued for their calcium content when chewed with areca nut (Shailendra Kumar and Jaya Sinha, 2018; Preethy et al, 2016). Commonly referred to as Veelyedele in Karnataka and Paan in other parts of India, betel is extensively cultivated across various states (Sandeep Kumar, 2012). Major producers include India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, with betel often used as a stimulant (Uttar Khoshoo, 1981; Singh, 1994; Samanta, 1994; Jana, 1996; Suryanarayana et al, 2014). In Indian culture, offering betel morsels (pan-supari) to guests signifies respect and new beginnings. Beyond its cultural significance, betel leaves possess medicinal benefits, including treating bleeding, sore throat, and nervous disorders (Guha, 2006; Sandeep Kumar, 2012). Despite its rich heritage, betel cultivation is declining, with landscapes around Mysuru district disappearing rapidly (MDEP, 2020).

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History & Cultivation

The betel leaf, native to the Indian subcontinent, has a history dating back 5,000 years. It is said that King Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar of Mysuru palace offered these leaves to his guests, and the plant later spread across tropical Asia, Madagascar, and East Africa (Sandeep Kumar, 2012). Characterized by heart-shaped, shiny leaves with a smooth pointed apex, the betel plant is a slender, aromatic creeper that roots at nodes and has swollen branches (Rupa Sengupta and Jayanta Banik, 2013; Moumita Nath and Pradip Debnath, 2021; Sujay Rai et al, 2005). It thrives in shaded areas with proper irrigation, growing up to 150-180 cm in height within 3 to 6 months. Planted at the onset of the monsoon season in well-drained fertile soil, the plant requires periodic applications of dried leaves, wood ash, and cow dung slurry. Harvesting typically occurs 3 to 6 months post-planting and lasts for 15 days to a month, with farmers manually picking the leaves and their petioles.

Production data

In India, betel leaf production is valued at Rs. 9,000 million annually, supporting approximately 20 million workers across various stages from cultivation to marketing (Suryanarayana, 2014; Guha, 2006). As a member of the WTO, India exported 6,159.39 MT of betel leaves worth Rs. 26.18 crores in 2020-21. However, the industry faced a decline post-March 2011, with trade dropping by 65% between 2000 and 2010 due to oversupply. Present challenges include threats from urbanization, inconsistent weather patterns affecting soil moisture and water supply (Aloke Bar et al, 2020), and significant spoilage rates of 35% to 70% during transportation due to poor infrastructure (Guha, 2006). While betel leaves are both consumed locally and exported globally, Indian farmers are finding the industry less profitable due to these challenges and declining domestic demand (Fig.1c).

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Threat of Urbanization

    The cultivation of betel leaves has significantly contracted due to urbanization, with only 2% of the total produce reaching city markets. Real estate expansion has pressured betel leaf farmers to sell their lands at low prices, leading to the disappearance of iconic Mysore products like Mysore Mallige (jasmine), Mysore silk, and Mysore sandalwood. Many cultivators have lost their land to urbanization or switched to other crops. Despite these challenges, a few farmers in Mysore continue to cultivate betel vines, facing the threat of land acquisition as the city expands. 

 

     Many of these growers, predominantly from SC families in Ashokapuram with a four-generation history in betel leaf cultivation, are abandoning the profession due to urbanization, labour scarcity, and environmental issues like plastic pollution and water scarcity. The once thriving 700-acre betel cultivation area in Mysuru has dwindled to a few acres, with ancestral lands transformed into residential layouts, hospitals, and colleges. 

 

   The younger generation is reluctant to continue the labour-intensive betel leaf cultivation due to competition, lack of government support, and low income. Previously, growers sourced water from a stormwater drain, but it has now turned into a sewage drain, causing flooding and plastic pollution. Water sources have either dried up or been diverted, making farming challenging during extreme summer conditions. As land prices rise with the booming real estate market, many growers are selling their lands, further accelerating the decline of betel leaf cultivation.

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Our Contribution

Rapid urbanization and real estate expansion have significantly reduced the area dedicated to betel-leaf cultivation in Mysuru, making this traditional farming less appealing due to increased labor costs, fluctuating prices, and the crop's sensitive nature. Iconic Mysuru brands like Mysore betel leaves and Mysore Mallige (Jasmine), which have Geographical Indication (GI) Tags, are at risk of disappearing if proper protection and support are not provided. 

Our brand is committed to reversing this trend by directly purchasing betel leaves from local farmers. By establishing a direct supply chain, we aim to provide consistent demand for their produce, ensuring stable income and encouraging them to continue betel-leaf cultivation. This direct engagement not only supports the livelihoods of betel leaf farmers but also helps preserve the rich heritage and unique identity of Mysuru's iconic crops. Through our brand's initiatives, we strive to safeguard the future of Mysore Veelyedele, ensuring they remain a source of pride for the city and its people.

Source of Data : M. M.C and Basavarajappa H.T, “Urbanization Threat on Mysore-Betel Leaf Extinction in Mysuru City of Karnataka State, India Using Geospatial Technology,” J. Remote Sensing, Environ. Sci. Geotech. Eng. Vol. 7 Issue 1, no. DOI:10.33552/icbc.2021.01.000521.

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