The Key to Saving Goa’s Agricultural Industry
Iris C F Gomes
‘All of us know of the problem of people not willing to work with their hands and not finding agriculture glamorous, and we need to look for solutions,’ said Miguel Braganza, agriculturist and promoter of all things green in Goa, speaking on solutions to farmers eschewing this traditional means of earning a livelihood. Human nature is wont to maintain the status quo; therefore in Goa we dislike change. Change can be effected only through the presence of trendsetters. Trendsetters are normally perceived to be from the echelons of the elite, the educated and the affluent.
Using the example of torn clothes which, though once an embarrassment and associated with dire poverty, have now become fashionable, Miguel expressed the hope that having trendsetters getting their hands ‘dirty’ would lead the way to making agriculture fashionable in Goa. Citing the examples of Karan Manral and Yogita Mehra of Green Essentials, Suprajit Raikar of Raika, and Victor Rangel, an engineer turned farmer like Suprajit Raikar. ‘We can go about without clothes, but we cannot go around hungry,’ said Miguel, emphasising the need for nutrition and hence the importance of agriculture.
We do not understand the value of something essential until we have lost it. To safeguard against these losses in the area of farming we need to plan in advance. Our tendency is to rely on the government, hoping that some blueprint for transformation will emerge from there. It is we, the people of Goa, who have to bring about change, just as we did through protests and social activism to give the coconut tree its status as a legitimate tree, leading to it being declared Goa’s state tree in 2017.
Although there are government schemes such as the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana to motivate clusters of farmers to take up organic farming, it is still up to us to participate. ‘We can start by growing a few vegetables at home, so we show by our actions that working with the soil is good. We may not be able to produce the entire quantity we want, we may not be able to produce quantities for even five days, but our example matters to people who see us,’ said Miguel.
The coconut tree, also called kalpavruksha, or the wish-fulfilling divine tree, is the source of much: oil, jaggery, toddy, desiccated coconut, etc. We have overcome excuses such coconut trees should be cut down or not planted due to the lack of coconut pluckers. Miguel gave the example of his own students from the Don Bosco College of Agriculture who learnt to climb coconut trees, led by a female student Anna Maria, with a tree climbing device that is manufactured in Goa. It is a matter of a willingness to learn, according to Miguel who said with certainty that he believed anyone between the ages of 10-70 could climb a coconut tree. There is no reason we cannot have farming of coconut trees as a lucrative occupation, which is beneficial to the people, in Goa.
For those who want to become part of the farming culture on a large scale, government schemes of offering subsidies for combine harvesters is of great benefit. The paddy transplanting machine has gained popularity thanks to Fr George Quadros, SDB. The 63-year-old Salesian priest has been promoting collective farming to reduce costs of machinery for farmers.
Miguel hails the students of Don Bosco College of Agriculture as change-makers. ‘They have the technology and the experience of working with farmers for six months last year, growing crops and transferring their knowledge to the farmers and gaining the farmers’ knowledge and experience for themselves. That has been a very big gain to spread the news, to make organic farming profitable and to convince the people that a graduate can work with the soil,’ said Miguel.
Celebrating the life and customs of those involved in farming industries such as the ramponkars through festivals, encouraging future generations to continue in an occupation that brings fresh fish to our tables, is essential.
On the topic of marketing and sale of agricultural produce, Miguel spoke of Nestor Rangel, a sound engineer turned farmer. Early on Nestor grew about 25-30 different varieties of mangoes which were difficult to sell in bulk because of the variation in the produce. By setting up flash sales, using technology, social media, festivals, contacts and so on, Nestor was able to sell his mangoes at a profit. Miguel said, ‘His call to fame was not mangoes. His call to fame was the Ilha Verde Famers’ Club of St Estevao.’ In 2018, they cultivated 5 lakh square metres of khazan land that had been unplanted for years. A traditional rice variety such as Korgut was used. This year (2019) they cultivated close to 14 lakh square metres of land. Despite flooding and the expectations of a crop loss, Miguel said, ‘Nature is very persistent, very versatile; the crop survived.’ The farmers harvested eighty percent of their yield instead of the twenty percent they had anticipated. The technology used by them was double transplanting which protects farmers against loss of yield due to flooding.
This same technology is also taught to the students of Don Bosco College of Agriculture. It is very much like hydroponics, and yield growth can be enhanced using panchagavya and EM (Effective Microorganisms). Now certain types of bacteria can be applied to increase the root growth in rice crops in khazan lands, such as Bacillus subtilis.
These technologies and methods may seem alien to farmers and it is far easier to convince an engineer or someone with a foundation in biotechnology to take them up. The traditional system of farming in villages had one man leading a group of 35-50 farmers for five years. He would give instructions as to when ploughing, sowing, transplanting, etc had to take place.
A combination of modern technology and tradition is needed to save farming in Goa. ‘This is the sort of solution I am looking for, that Goa needs and that we need to work with,’ said Miguel, who encouraged the audience to go back home and start their own kitchen gardens, if only a pot of mint or coriander, to set an example to their family and others.
(This article is based on Miguel Braganza’s presentation and talk Solutions for Farmers Giving up Farming at The New Earth Summit [www.thenewearthsummit.com] that took place on the 8th, 9th and 10th of November 2019)