'Paan' retains its popularity in an ever-changing society
In spite of the advent of many new items for man's taste not only in the country but also all over the sub-continent, the betel leaf or 'paan' has remained as the most favourite daily consumer item not only in the household but also during social events.
Since time immemorial, people especially older folks, in the city as well as in the rural area across the country, have been taking betel leaf a number of times daily, many by the hour or more. Others who are not regular users do it during social functions. In fact one just needs an excuse to put a 'paan' in his or her mouth usually after a meal.
More than a million people are directly or indirectly involved in the business of cultivating and selling betel leaf as a livelihood across the country, traders said.
There is no place in Bangladesh where one will not get betel leaf, be they small shops or mobile vendors who also sell cigarettes and chocolate.
While visiting some areas of Satkhira, Jessore and Khulna, farmers were found busy making the 'roof' (or mending existing ones) that is required for the protection of the growing betel leaf. They are made from bamboo strips and shade the betel plant from the sun.
Traders said, "Betel leaf of Chargram, Aladipur and Magura of Tala, Satkhira, Mongolkoat and Altapol of Keshabpur, Jessore and some other area of the country are comparatively better in terms of quality. Cultivators of these area take great care so that the betel leaf take good shape in size and taste."
Cultivators said that with the increasing price of bamboo and hike in wages of day-labourers profit in betel leaf cultivation has fallen significantly but that they still enjoyed more profit in this profession compared to rice, jute, turmeric, chilli, sugar-cane, brinjal and other crops.
Betel leaf is sold at Tk 20 to 50 per 'pon', a unit of 80 leaves. The price varies from time to time and is based on season. During off-season the price goes up and during rainy season it is down, traders said.
"We have to invest a significant amount of money at the beginning of cultivation---planting, preparing the fence and the roof, digging drains between rows and set up stick to shore up betel leaf (which is type of creeper)," said cultivators.
Farmers start planting the root of betel leaf at the beginning of the rainy season. The root of old betel leaf land is to be cultivated a minimum of 16 times for better production and then different fertilisers are mixed with soil, farmers said.
Nowadays farmers are use urea, Triple Super Phosphate, Muriam of Potash and gypsum in addition to dung, which increases the production, farmers informed.
There are two types of betel leaf-one, called 'shachi paan', is small, thin and tastes slightly abrasive or 'hot'. The other type is larger, leafier and sweeter in taste.
Today, at most social functions in the country especially marriage ceremonies and other festivals betel leaf is taken at the end as a sort of curtain call to the victuals already consumed.
Traders said the country earns handsome amount of foreign currency through exporting betel leaf to a number of countries. Appropriate policy support, financial support to real farmers and proper and timely supply of fertiliser at tolerable rate may pave the way to earn more money.