Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Betel leaf prices double after drought, storms

Dramatic changes in weather have sent the price of betel leaf soaring by almost three times since April according to wholesale sellers who have been forced to cut back their stock while hawkers say they are struggling to make their usual daily wage.

Betel leaves are used to wrap quids of betel nut, slaked lime and tobacco, which produce a blood-red paste when chewed together, staining the teeth.

The price of leaves, around K4000 per viss (1.63 kilograms) in April, began to rise when drought hit much of the country. Relief seemed on the way with the start of the rainy season but unusually heavy downpours and storms have destroyed farms, pushing prices higher still.

Daw Win Than who runs a one-person betel quid stall in Yangon’s North Dagon said prices have tripled. “In April the prices was K4000 per viss. Two weeks ago it rose K6000 because of a shortage of water. Now the price has reached K12,000 per viss because farms were destroyed by heavy rain.”

Upper Myanmar was hit hard in the dry season by droughts brought on by a powerful El Niño, and betel leaf farmers had resorted to buying bottled water to keep their plants hydrated. Now the rain is here but fierce rainstorms have destroyed farms, said U Thein Naing, a betel farmer from Pasi village in Ayeyarwady Region’s Nyaungdon township.

“The water shortage and then the deluge pushed up prices hugely,” he said. “If heavy rain falls and betel leaf farms flood they have to buy extra soil at a cost of around K35,000. The investment is expensive.”

Many Yangon betel sellers buy their leaves from Nyaungdon township, which delivers to Thiri Mingalar Market. U Phone Zaw who owns a betel leaf wholesale shop in the market said the price he pays for betel leaf has risen from K6000 to K10,000 per viss within a week.

“The farms were very hot and the quality of the leaf is not good – that’s why the price is up. I think prices will not fall now, because the demand is so high,” he said.

“Betel sellers are finding it difficult to sell because prices are now so expensive, so we have lost out on daily income. While the price has soared, profits are lower,” said Ma Aye Aye Naing who runs a betel chewing stall in South Okkalapa.