Only around 150 people in the village are currently engaged in this profession
The lime business has been running in the Chuniapara village of Dinajpur Sadar upazila for about 150 years. The village is named after 'chun' (meaning lime), as there was a time when many locals were engaged in this trade.
Lime used to be sent to different parts of the country, including Dhaka, Chattogram, Rajshahi, Pabna, Bogra and Rangpur.
At one point, about 4,000 people, called Panchami or Juge, were involved in the profession.
But discouraged by low lime prices, many have been leaving this profession. The number of labourers engaged in the trade is significantly decreasing by the day.
At present, only around 150 locals in Chuniapara are involved in this profession.
Swapan, 32, once a lime maker of Chuniapara, is currently involved in the business of selling and distributing newspapers and magazines.
"My parents and grandparents were involved in the lime trade for a long time," said Swapan.
"But with the sharp drop in earnings, many people are driving vans and rickshaws, and running small grocery shops," he added.
Babu Debnath, 70, said, "Both my father and grandfather were involved in this profession. After that, my sons and I also stepped in. Now earnings have significantly reduced. That's why we are supplementing our lime-producing income by working in other homes and agricultural land as day-labourers."
Local lime producers said they used to make lime by burning the shells of snails or oysters, collected from different indigenous communities. This lime is beneficial for the human body.
But the use of stones in the lime production process has now increased exponentially. Various chemicals agents are now used, making lime produced in this way harmful to the human body.
According to locals, a 15 kg sack of snails or oyster costing Tk200 is used to produce about 30 kg of lime, and one maund of lime (about 37.3 kg) sells for Tk600. It costs about Tk300 to process the same amount of lime.
Minu Bala, a lime producer in the village, said, "Now oysters are not available like before. Oysters are also more expensive, at Tk12 per kg….so is firewood."
Mangal Chandra Debnath, also from the same area, complained that no one understood the difficulties of the lime production process.
According to lime producers, specialized round clay stoves are made for the process. The oyster shells are first placed in a clay pot over a firewood stove. The shells are inserted in layers in between the firewood, after which they are burned.
The shells are then extracted, crushed and immersed in water for about three hours. The crushed shells turn into lime in five hours.
"We do not receive any kind of formal support. We take loans from NGOs. There is no set market price for lime. It would be a tremendous relief if the government helped us in some way," he said.
Nepali Rani Roy works with her husband to produce lime. She said, "But lime prices are low, so incomes are also low. We can't afford to properly feed or educate our children. My husband often has to work as a day labourer to make ends meet."
According to lime producers, lime retails at Tk800 per maund, while the wholesale price is Tk600 per maund.
"Although there is improvement everywhere, our sector has seen no improvement. We work extremely hard in our trade, but we are completely ignored," said Babita Bala, a lime producer of Chuniapara.
Consuming lime with betel leaves remains one of the most popular uses of lime.
Mr Nandu Prasad has been selling betel leaves in Nimtala area of Dinajpur for 36 years.
He said, "Betel leaf consumers use lime as well. The price of lime is now about Tk20 per kg. The price is not an issue, but if the lime is of good quality, the betel leaf will also taste good."
Bipul Chandra Sarkar, a regular customer of betel leaf in Nandu Prasad's shop, said, "Eating a betel leaf after a heavy meal is amazing. But it's just not the same if you don't mix lime with it."
Another buyer, Rafiqul Islam, said, "I eat betel leaf recreationally. The combination of betel leaf and lime makes all the difference."
According to locals, for quality limes, the lime manufacturing process must be made economically viable for the producers. They urged the relevant authorities to help lime producers sustain their profession.