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Wilt attack and gale leave Madurai betel crop farmers in the lurch

S. Annamalai

Growers demand compensation; experts come out with recommendations

MADURAI: : Farmers who have raised betel crop in Madurai district are in tears.

A sporadic spread of wilt and the recent gale have dealt a severe blow to the crop. Desperate farmers have given up attempts to retrieve whatever is left.

Betel leaves grown in the Sholavandan region are famous in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

This unique variety literally goes places whenever monsoon is good. Growers, who have been anticipating a good crop this year, thanks to favourable rainfall, are a disappointed lot.

In the last three years, yield had come down drastically because of the consecutive drought. This year, buoyed by wet spells, farmers have brought more area under betel, raised along with banana.

Normally, the betel crop lasts for four years in this belt. Says S. Murugesan, a farmer in Achampathu: "We spend an average of Rs. 1.25 lakhs on raising betel an acre. In four years, the yield works out to Rs. three lakhs."

This year, a majority of farmers at Madakulam, Ponmeni, Erkudi, Virattipathu, Achampathu, Tiruvedagam, Sholavandan, Mullipallam, Mannadimangalam, Thuvariman, Thachampathu, Paravai, Samayanallur, Thenur and Tirupparankundram do not nurse any hope of harvest.

Instead, they have allowed it to perish. Crop damage is not absolute in the belt, as the pest and nature have spared some farmers. In a particular land near Thuvariman, betel raised on one acre is left untouched.

"It is difficult to retrieve the crop. So we leave it to perish. The land cannot be used for raising betel next season. Instead, we shall attempt to sow paddy before getting it fit for betel," says N. Ponraj, a farmer of Thuvariman.

While the entire damage cannot be attributed to wilt alone, the gale that swept through several parts of the district recently, had brought down betel vine along with banana trees.

According to farmers' estimates, crop raised on an area of 300 acres has been damaged.

They have presented a memorandum, seeking compensation, to district officials, who have promised to forward the demand to the Government.

Mr. Murugesan says a compensation of Rs. 8,000 per hectare will not be adequate. Still it will be a small consolation for farmers, who are yet to get into the habit of insuring their crops.

A delegation of farmers, led by Madurai MP P. Mohan, submitted a memorandum to Collector D. Raajendiran on Monday, seeking compensation for the damaged betel crop.

Field maintenance

A team of scientists from the Agricultural College and Research Institute, which visited some of the wilt-affected fields, has come out with recommendations to save the crop from wilt.

According to N. Kempu Chetty, Dean, the team has concluded that "greater attention by the farmers is needed in field maintenance" to prevent weedy growth and water stagnation, which deteriorate soil health.

The team has suggested an integrated method for management of Phytophthora wilt. It includes removal of affected vines from the garden and burning them, and avoiding frequent irrigation. The team feels that field demonstrations could be held in affected villages on the application of pesticides and fertilizer.

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