Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)

West Bengal First Outreach Meeting
South 24 Parganas District, June 15, 2005

CUTS Calcutta Resource Centre (CUTS-CRC) organised the first outreach meeting of the GRANITE project in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal on June 15, 2005. The meeting was held in partnership with Sunderban Rural Development & Training Centre (SRDTC), a non-government organisation (NGO) of good repute and working over a considerable period of time. Two meetings were held in the famous Sunderban area of South 24 Parganas. The first one was held at Durbachoti Gram Panchayat of Patharpratima Block and the other one was held at Rishi Bankim Gram Panchayat of Kakdwip Block. We thought of getting two sets of separate views from the participants at these places but not much difference was found in the views of the participants at both the places. The villages were selected on the basis of their accessibility; one was little remote (in terms of communication) than the other. The venues for the meetings were the panchayat bhavan and house of a local resident respectively.

Objective of the meeting

To find out present problems relating to livelihood issues of the sector and articulate the same with the international changes (like process of globalisation and treaties under WTO).


The first outreach meeting was held in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, in collaboration with SRDTC, a reputed NGO working mainly in this district. In addition, they also have centres in Coochbehar district of West Bengal and West Singbhum of Jharkhand.

Before conducting the main meeting, CRC met few of the members of SRDTC for the selection of venue and to have a basic idea regarding the main concerns of that locality. Durbachoti Gram Panchayat of Patharpratima Block and Rishi Bankim Gram Panchayat of Kakdwip Block were selected as the venues. The selection was done keeping in mind the total area of the district and the distance from the nearest town.

Following issues came up in the pre-meeting discussion with SRDTC members:

Pabitra Kumar Maity (Key Informant)

1.1 From Pabitra Kumar Maity, Project Coordinator, SRDTC, it was known that the main crops in the area are paddy, watermelon and beetle leaf. Age-old beetle leaf cultivators are forced to shift to some other crops due to low market price and increase in input costs.

1.2 Beetle leaf cultivation needs more care than anyother plant. The whole process is very costly due to following reasons – costly bio-compost fertilizers (as the process requires a huge amount of fertilizers), replacement of topsoil of the land at least thrice a year, etc. Earlier farmers could produce these fertilizers domestically, but now they have to buy from the market (due to non-availability of the raw materials locally). This causes increment in the input cost. In addition, farmers ought to spend a considerable time for the cultivation.

1.3 Pabitra Kumar Maity also provided a short background stating that the beetle leaf cultivation started in that area 25-30 years ago. There was a practice to consume beetle leaf by growing the plants at the household level. From there it turned towards one of the important commercial crops. In addition, the locals are mainly migrants from the Midnapore District of West Bengal and the skill migrated with them as beetle leaf cultivation was a tradition there. The saline soil of the South 24 Parganas supported this cultivation hence it flourished. There are two categories of beetle leaves (called ‘paan’ in Bengali) viz. ‘bangla’ and ‘mitha’. The farmers started with ‘bangla paan’ but through observation they found that there is high demand of the ‘mitha’ variety, which lured them to grow both.

1.4 The farmers sell their produce in the local market (called ‘arat’ in Bengali) of nearby Kakdwip Block. In ‘arat’, the traders (mainly middlemen) and the farmers negotiate and decide the price. The owner of the market gets a service charge for the deal. In past for larger production the farmers often targeted the Mecheda market of adjacent Midnapore district with an expectation of better price, but they are also not getting at present. According to the local people, the reason behind the low price may be the collusion among the traders on the one hand and on the other hand the lack of information among the farmers. Three years back the price of a bundle of 10,000 beetle leaves was Rs 12,000-15,000, which, at present, has come down to a maximum of Rs 1,000.

The outreach meeting was conducted in two phases:

  • Personal Interview; and
  • Focused Group Discussion.
  • Personal Interview (Anjali Manna, Pradhan of the Durbachoti Gram Panchyat of Patharpratima Block)

2.1   Anjali Manna expressed her prime concern about the Panchayat’s stake in the development process.

2.2  Another concern is high rate of migration to cities due to low income.

  • Focused Group Discussion

Venue: Patharpratima Block and Kakdwip Block

Socio-Economic Condition

Local Language: Bengali
Livelihood: Mainly Farming. Presently migrating as labourers outside the villages in cold storages in Burdwan and construction work in urban areas.
Main Crops: Paddy, Chilly, Potatoes, and Beetle Leaf. Cultivation of watermelon was given up due to unfavourable weather conditions.
Exposure to mass media: Mainly radio (as there is no electricity, in some places solar electricity is used).

Following crucial issues came out from the discussion:

3.1 Decrease in the output level – A decade ago the farmers used to get around 800 kgs of paddy per bigha but at present they are getting only 300kgs. Farmers identified two main reasons –

  •  Mechanised Farming leads to excessive use of chemical fertilizers. According to the farmers, the traditional method of ploughing the soil with bullocks and plough machine is far more effective than power tillers as tilling with uneven depth is more useful than with even depth. So, the bottom soil is getting hardened and the topsoil that has exhausted its fertility is failing to produce without addition of fertilizers. On the contrary, the seeds, presently available in the market, germinate best in power-tilled soil. So, there exists a complementary relation in the form that the hybrid seeds procured by the farmers can be used in the power-tilled soil only, which, on the other hand, reduces the fertility level of the field.
  • High Crop Intensity – Leaves very little, rather no scope for the field to regain its fertility.

3.2 Bandwagon Effect leads to a loss – There is a tendency among the farmers to follow each other blindly. When they see that the other farmer is getting better margins they also start imitating the same without taking into consideration the soil quality, financial capacity, etc. Due to increased supply, market prices falls, which leads to loss in the long run.

3.3 Quality vs. Quantity – Farmers are more interested in high quantity rather than good quality products.

3.4 Irrigation Problem – The river water available for irrigation is saline. Farmers have to buy water for irrigation from the nearby pond owners by using motor pumps @ Rs 30/40 per hour.

3.5 Government Intervention in Price Fixing – In contrast to the cases of potatoes and paddy, the price fixation of beetle leaf was unable to draw the necessary attention of the agriculture department. But the livelihood of a large section of population in south Bengal is directly associated with this crop. This has led the traders to fix prices on the basis of their whims and fancies portraying a bad market situation.

3.6 Lack of soil testing facility – The Krishi Prajukti Shayak (KPS) or the Agriculture Extension Worker sometimes collect samples for testing, but the report takes months or even years to reach the cultivators. Thus, the farmers have no faith on the KPS. Some cultivators, on their own initiative, get the soil tested through local NGOs, which is not very popular due to lack of awareness. Cultivators are often duped by fake reports provided by the fraud soil testers.

3.7 Panchayat’s Involvement –

  • Distribution of fertilizers and seeds  –
  • Distribution process is not satisfactory according to the farmers.
  • Supply is lesser than the requirement.
  • Supply has not been done on time.
  • Training of Farmers – The panchayat also arranges for training of 30 farmers each year and supports them in agricultural activities. However, the process by which these trainees are chosen is based on the political will. Sometimes, training is arranged for the farmers from the office of Agriculture Development Officer and other NGOs. They train the farmers and ask them to buy the required raw materials from them and go for cultivation. But there is no follow up with the farmers about the problems they face during the process of cultivation.

3.8 Quality of Fertilizers and Pesticides – The manufacturing companies and the farmers are equally responsible if the inputs do not give the expected results.

  • No facility to ensure the quality of the fertilizers and pesticides at the grassroots level.
  • The farmers are not purchasing fertilizers and the pesticides with proper voucher or cash memo thus they cannot even lodge legal complaints incase of faulty products.
  • The instructions on the label are provided in English or other foreign languages but rarely in Bengali.
  • There is lack of awareness regarding the necessary precaution to be taken by the farmers when they spray pesticides in the field.


The discussion highlighted issues such as-

  • Increased farm mechanisation is adversely affecting the farming sector. The uneven tilling done using the indigenous plough, which acts beneficial for the farmers, should be kept in mind while designing ploughing machines for the farmers. This will allow the plant to extract nutrition from various levels of soil.
  • The practice of fallowing land should be pursued. No field can continuously produce substantial yield. It should be left idle for a certain period of time in the year so that it can regain its fertility. Thus, to encourage this practice alternative employment opportunities should be provided to the farmers for a certain period of time in the year.
  • A system of quality control for fertilizers and pesticides or an effective complaining cell should be ensured at the local level or panchyat level to check supply of substandard fertilizers and pesticides. The panchayat should ensure that farmers are aware of the necessary precautions while spraying chemicals in their fields. In addition it should be made mandatory that the composition and instructions provided in the packets should be in local languages.
  •  An effective cell for the soil testing should be set up along with awareness generation at the base level regarding its usefulness. The government can think of having registered soil testers at the local level, which will help provide farmers with necessary training, license and equipments.
  • Dissemination of information regarding the price of agricultural commodities in distant markets (nearby cities) could be done through radio. This will give the farmers the required information to bargain with the traders. They can also do a calculation of profit if they plan to transport the yield by themselves to the urban markets.
  • Sometimes, it is found that the cost of pesticide used is far more than the loss incurred due to the attack of the insect. Farmers should be given proper training so that they could do the cost and benefit analysis and decide accordingly. This can check the unnecessary addition to the cost of cultivation. Also, insurance against crop failure should be provided to the farmers.
  • Strengthen research and development (R&D) for the diversified use of beetle leaves, which can provide a rise in demand for the crop so that the farmers can fetch a better and ensured price.