The wrath of the novel coronavirus pandemic is being meted out to marginalised communities and causing disruption in supply chains. The supply of the betel leaf or the sweet paan leaf may not affect many consumers across India, but is pushing farmers to the brink of starvation and acute poverty.
The cultivation of betel leaves is done by a small chunk of farmers in India, who were already suffering the ill-effects of a stuttering economy. Now, the coronavirus lockdown has meant a total clampdown on supply and sales of the leaf.
More than 3,000 families in Odisha’s Dhinkia Charidesh are dependent on betel leaf farming. They are likely to lose at least Rs. 50 crore, as their crop of betel leaves have not been transported due to the lockdown.
Activists say these are only estimates for the small region in Odisha. However, losses of a much greater magnitude will be accounted for if other districts like Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Kendrapara, Cuttack, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Balasore, and Ganjam, which also produce the crop, are considered. Locals suggest that the loss could amount to Rs. 10,000 crores.
It is because stocks across Odisha will not survive the summer if immediate measures are not taken for transportation. The region is largely involved in betel leaf farming to meet the country's demand for sweet paan used in wedding ceremonies and other occasions. With no paan shops open and no ceremonies taking place, the farmers remain in a miniscule minority, suffering in silence.
Deba Dhinkia, the member of a committee on contract farming from the area, said that the farmers had been suffering for a while. “We have been suffering for a month now, with no option in sight. There is no relief, many here do not have ration cards. Some people are able to avail food, while the majority are not. The labour is suffering enormously,” he said.
Betel leaf cultivation takes place across India. However, the crisis is particularly harsh for those in Odisha as the communities involved in the cultivation of the crop belong to particularly vulnerable tribes and have previously suffered enormous losses during the anti-POSCO struggle in the state.
Prasant Paikrai, an activist with the movement, said that the communities of people in question are “most vulnerable as they were also involved in the anti-POSCO movement. Exports have stopped and the farmers are in a serious crisis as we have no cold storage in our area. Benefits are being given to other farmers then why not us? We want a package to be declared either by the state government or the central government.”
The activists, on behalf of the farmers, are now demanding a relief package for the community which has remained invisible in the relief packages announced thus far.
Read More: COVID-19: ‘Crops Destroyed, are Forced to Starve,’ say Madhya Pradesh Farmers