As one travels across Goa, he or she will see the topography changing -- in some places all for the bad. Once where fields flaunted their greenery now one can see garbage dumps, scrapyards or an upcoming construction. Deep down we are all propelled to do something but think maybe one person’s effort won’t suffice.
The farmers of Chinchinim, however, think differently. They realized the strength of many hands joining could pave the way for change in tune with Margaret J Wheatley's words: There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about. With the aim to revive agriculture, create livelihoods and prevent their land from being misused, these farmers are leading by example to ensure Goa stays green.
MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK
After the success at Digaum bandh, Chinchinim farmers have set out to revive the neglected ‘Patto’ fields across NH66 located at the side of Sebastian Chapel. Their hard work has ensured a total of almost 5 lakh square meters of area to come under cultivation and the plan is to further increase the acreage.
Two years ago, with an aim to restore lands lying fallow for 30 years, the Chinchinim Agriculture Club started agricultural operations.
Agnel Furtado, President of the Chinchinim Agriculture Club, avers, "There is a saying that an idle mind is a devil's workshop and, for me, an idle field is a builder’s workshop. We have seen how unused agricultural lands are getting converted into dump yards and scrapyards."
We wanted to stop that and therefore took farmers and also tenants into confidence and convinced them that there was no point in keeping their lands idle, he narrates.
SUPPORT AND TECHNICAL HELP
Apart from the support received from the WRD Minister Subhash Shirodkar, Velim MLA Cruz Silva, the village panchayat’s biodiversity unit and the State’s Agriculture Department, a pivotal role has been played by Fr George Quadros (known as the Paddy Man of Goa), who has been instrumental in giving a fillip to Chinchinim's agriculture.
Besides encouraging the farmers, he is supporting them with technical help like the use of drones, transplanters and other machinery.
Agriculture in Goa had once been the most common occupation with nearly 70 per cent of the population involved in different farming activities. But with the rising costs of labor and Goans moving abroad for better job prospects, much of Goa’s agricultural land has been left fallow.
ASSISTANCE FOR COMMUNITY FARMING
To tackle the issue and to make farming more viable in the state, Assistance for Community Farming scheme was launched in 2018 to help farmers avail subsidies of up to 90 per cent for fencing, irrigation facilities and other required machinery.
Availing of such a scheme requires farmers with smaller land holdings to come forward and register with the State Agriculture Department as a group (with a minimum of 10 members with a total combined land holding exceeding one hectare). Members are also required to be Krishi card holders.
Under the Loosely Amalgamated Community Farming, from 2020-23 a total of 51 community farming groups have been approved to provide assistance with nearly 285.28 square meters of area proposed for cultivation. From this, assistance has been released to 27 groups with about Rs 115.02 lakh expenditure.
WILL THE YOUNG GENERATION GET INVOLVED?
It is difficult to persuade young people to join agriculture, who not only find it low-paying but also dirty (no dignity of labor). However, Fr George Quadros has been successful in bringing many youngsters to modern farming.
Under his leadership, young adults like Kenneth Lopes, Neville Luis and Stanley Fernandes have come under the Goencho Xetkar umbrella. “Mechanization is the key to sustaining paddy cultivation. It is fast, efficient and cost-effective,'' says Kenneth Lopes, Technical Director at Goencho Xetkar.
Previously an engineer with Jet Airways, Kenneth is now involved in agriculture working with tractors, transplanters and other machinery. Stanley hails from an IT background and is among the few who have availed license for the use of drones in agriculture.
Neville, a geologist, works at a multinational organization but during his breaks in Goa, working in the fields is all that he thinks.
Agriculture is considered a back-breaking sector because of all the manual work that’s involved, especially at the stage of transplanting saplings. '' To fill the void of insufficient labor, we need to look at mechanization more positively. You need to get more young people involved by training them to use machinery,” suggests Kenneth.
The tedious and time-consuming work of transplanting saplings has been made efficient using transplanters. At the Patto fields in Chinchinim, a record of 1.75 lakh square meters area was covered using transplanters in a single day. Remote-controlled drones are also used to effectively spray weedicides over the paddy crops without much wastage.
However, mechanization involves high cost that can only be feasible if farming is practiced collectively. "Mechanization does have inherent problems such as high cost of machinery, the declining size of land holding and scattered fields which affect affordability for small farmlands and hence community farming helps tide over this shortfall,” Kenneth Lopes adds.
Farmers are the backbone of a country because they are the providers of our food. In recent times, forging a new India that's ‘self-reliant’ in food is the catchphrase. This initiative in Chinchinim by a community pooling together resources and making farming more appealing to youngsters through mechanized operations will further help ensure food security in the state.
The hurdles faced by farmers in availing subsidies because of red tape need to be done away with. Also, a farmer has to invest first and then claim his money, only to encounter delays. This needs to be addressed too on an urgent basis.
Also, Comunidade land is being bought over at a dirt cheap price of 40 paise per square meter and converted for commercial purposes. This has to stop. The climatic conditions are posing another challenge for farming. In the face of this challenge, farmers will do well if they equip themselves with efficient irrigation systems that spray water efficiently.
The success story in Chinchinim should serve as an example for the rest of Goa. Back in the days, small communities thrived on farming in Goa. It's time to bring back that legacy.