The ongoing cold wave coupled with dense fog wreaks havoc on betel plantations, locally known as paner baroj, in Sadar, Lohagara and Kalia upazilas of Narail, much to the worry of growers in the district known for extensive betel cultivation.
The disease, marked by dropping of leaves, is spreading rapidly amid less sunlight and high moisture, said several betel planters including Subroto Shikder, Kalipodo Biswas, Ratan Das and Sukumar Roy of Uzirpur village in Sadar upazila.
Admitting the situation, Monojeet Mollik, plant protection specialist of the Department of Agricultural Extension in Narail, said, "The situation will improve if the weather gets dry with sufficient sunlight and flow of air. Meantime, farmers can spray 1Dithame-45 or Score medicine and cover the plantations with polythene to save the betel leaves."
Farmers, however, said nothing seem to be effective in saving the situation.
Amid fall in profit due to unfavourable weather, pest attack, shortage of capital, scarcity of seeds and absence of proper preservation and marketing facilities, about half of more than 15,000 betel growers in the three upazilas of the district have left the cultivation during the last decade, farmers said during this correspondent's recent visits.
Average cost for betel production per hectare of land is Tk 2.5 to 3.5 lakh while the yield is about five to six tonnes, and if everything goes well, one can earn profit of over Tk one lakh from per hectare, several planters said.
But most of the farmers failed to earn profit due to widespread attack of pests and viruses during the last several years, they said.
"This year we have to count more losses due to dropping of leaves for extremely cold weather," said Bisnu Biswas, a betel planter.