Border talks raise hopes for Mizoram areca nut farmers

Assam, Mizoram agree to crack down harder on the smuggling of areca nuts from other countries

November 18, 2022 06:11 pm | Updated 06:11 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Photo used for illustration purpose only.

Photo used for illustration purpose only. | Photo Credit: The Hindu


A fresh round of talks to resolve the decades-old boundary dispute with Assam, has raised the hopes of areca or betel nut farmers in Mizoram, who have been the victims of a crackdown on areca nuts smuggled from Myanmar.

The high-level teams led by the Assam’s Border Protection and Development Department Minister Atul Bora and Mizoram’s Home Minister Lalchamliana met in Guwahati on Thursday for arriving at an amicable solution to the vexed boundary dispute between the two States.

Mizoram agreed to furnish a list of the villages, their areas, geo-spatial extent, the ethnicity of the residents and other relevant information within three months for Assam to examine and respond.

A key takeaway of the meeting was the agreement between the two States to address the issue faced by Mizoram’s areca nut farmers in transporting their produce to Assam and other parts of the country.

Both sides acknowledged the unrest among Mizoram’s areca nut farmers but agreed to continue the “zero tolerance policy” against the transportation of smuggled areca nuts from other countries.

Areca nut growers in Mizoram, particularly the Hachhek area of Mamit district, have been agitating for months against the “unofficial ban” on the transportation of their produce deemed by enforcement agencies to be the stuff smuggled from Myanmar. Some 80% of the farmers across 34 villages in the Hachhek area grow areca nuts.

Market collapsed

India allowed the tariff-free import of areca nuts from Myanmar in keeping with a preferential trade agreement between the two countries in 1994. This did not impact the areca nut growers of Mizoram as much as the smuggling triggered by a 40% tariff India imposed in 2018 on the suspicion that areca nuts from Indonesia were being routed via Myanmar.

The problem for Mizoram’s areca nut growers magnified after the July 2021 inter-State boundary conflict that claimed the lives of six Assam police personnel. Assam began cracking down on smuggled goods – primarily drugs, foreign-made cigarettes, exotic animals and Burmese areca nuts – harder than before, the growers said.

“The market for our produce collapsed this year after the Assam-based buyers were unable to transport the areca nuts purchased from the Mizo farmers because of the large-scale seizures,” a spokesperson of the Hachhek Areca Nut Farmers’ Association said, hoping that the border talks would help transport their produce to the markets in Assam and beyond.

The officials of the enforcement agencies said India loses ₹150 billion annually in revenue because of the smuggling of substandard and unsafe areca nuts. In 2021, more than 1,400 metric tonnes of areca nuts smuggled from Myanmar, worth ₹448 million, were seized in Mizoram and Assam.

The illicit trade thrives on a huge demand for areca nuts in the country. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey India Report of 2016-17, about 8% of India’s population uses areca nuts to chew with betel leaves and different kinds of smokeless tobacco preparations.

“The market for our produce collapsed this year after the Assam-based buyers were unable to transport the areca nuts purchased from the Mizo farmers because of the large-scale seizures”SpokespersonHachhek Areca Nut Farmers’ Association

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