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Updated: August 9, 2012 12:54 IST

Steps to free betel farmers

R. Sairam
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Farmers engaged in betel vine farming at Vadugapatti near Periyakulam in Theni
The Hindu Farmers engaged in betel vine farming at Vadugapatti near Periyakulam in Theni district.

From the clutches of money lenders

National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) has taken an initiative to free betel vine farmers of Theni district from the clutches of usurious money lenders by bringing them under the formal credit sector.

The NABARD is forming joint Liability Groups (JLGs) to link farmers directly with banks, S. Natarajan, Deputy General Manager, NABARD Watersheds Unit in Madurai, which covers 11 southern districts, including Theni, told The Hindu here on Wednesday. A local non-governmental organisation (NGO) had been roped in to facilitate the process.

Around 350 farmers were engaged in raising betel vine at Vadugapatti, near Periyakulam in Theni district with most of them being landless peasants. The norm was to lease suitable land for three years with an average rent of Rs.70,000 per acre.

Being labour-intensive, betel vine farming requires large investment and input costs. Each farmer usually cultivates about 10 cents (one-tenth of an acre). Ten farmers come together to lease an acre and, besides the initial lease amount payable, each farmer has to incur an additional Rs.50,000 per year towards providing pandal and cost of cultivation.

Despite risks associated with the crop, betel vine is generally a highly remunerative crop, forcing most of the farmers to borrow from money lenders at very high interest rates to meet the lease rent and cost of cultivation.

To alleviate the farmers’ credit problems, Mr. Natarajan said that the 350 farmers were told to form between 35 and 40 JLGs, which would open savings accounts in a bank of their choice. Once the requirements were met, the banks were expected to meet the farmers’ credit requirements.

A meeting for this purpose was held at Theni recently with Mr. Natarajan and V. Mani, District Development Manager of NABARD for Theni district, holding discussions with farmers.

“It is also envisaged that betel vine farmers will organise themselves into a producers’ organisation and will be in a position to manage crop input requirements and market their produce collectively.”

The NABARD had already supported the betel vine farmers through its promotional programme for technology adaptation and organic farming, he added.

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