Tirur betel leaf (vettila) growers are pinning their hopeon a newly formed farmer producer company to find new markets.

The GI-tagged betel leaf is the most sought after variety in North India. Pakistan was a major market for Tirur vettila, but shipments were disrupted due to strained relations between the two countries after 2016.

The Kerala government has formed the FPO with a focus on betel leaf farming, sales and value-added products. PV Pramod, CEO of Tirur Betel Leaf Producer Company Ltd, said the betel leaf variety has medicinal properties and is cultivated exclusively in around 600 acres in the Tirur region of Malappuram district.

“We recently participated in the GI products expo in New Delhi to create more awareness of the product in North India, which is a thriving market for betel leaves. The response was encouraging, going by the orders received from customers”.

Input cost

The immediate priority is to reclassify the Tirur vettila from a stimulant industrial product to an agricultural product, for which a request has already been made with the Centre. To make its cultivation viable, there are plans to supply fertiliser — which constitutes 40 per cent of the input cost — at reduced cost, he said.

The input cost can be further reduced if iron poles can replace the poles made from areca nut trees that are used for betel leaf cultivation, he said.

Tirur vettila is also used by Kottackal Aryavaidyasala in preparing ayurvedic medicines. In traditional medicine, the leaf is used to treat fever, digestion problems and eye diseases. The leaf has high eugenol and protein content and antioxidant levels, he said, adding that the company is looking at value-addition products such as herbal toothpaste and soap.

Post-Covid revival

NK Mohammed Shafi, the company director, said that the pandemic-related lockdowns had hit betel leaf sales in North India, but post-Covid demand has boosted sales, with daily despatches of around one tonne leaves to North Indian markets.

January-March is considered the peak production season and farmers get₹60-70 for 100 leaves.

Kerala Agricultural University has mooted the promotion of the medicinal properties of Tirur vettila with the support of ayurvedic manufacturing firms, said CR Elsy, agriculture expert and GI consultant.