Rice is the staple food for the people of the Konkan, including Goa. The day starts with pez or rice canji, as the first meal for those not hooked on to the Anglo-Saxon breakfast of tea or coffee with the daily bread or pao.
Wheat is not a crop of the Konkan or even of India; it is a colonial introduction reinforced by the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ that introduced all the fertilizers and insecticides into Indian farming. Even the bhakri and vhodde were made of rice flour in the past.
Wheat was not a part of Goan cuisine or diet. Many households used to grow their own rice for home consumption.
In recent years, we have seen a revival of rice cultivation for sale, specially in Chorao, Santo Estevao and Curtorim. Revival of home-level seed banks must now follow in the post-Covid era.
LOCAL RICE VARIETIES
Some villages have retained the seeds of their traditional rice varieties, while others are now just names that evoke nostalgia, and nothing else. Rice scientist, Dr Shilpa Bhonsle has documented some of these varieties – Asgo, Kochri, Sotti, Damgo, Jirasal, Bhangarsal – that are heard of, but rarely seen.
Dr KK Manohara, a scientist (Genetics & Plant Breeding) at ICAR-CCARI, Ela, Old Goa, has used the seeds of salt-tolerant Korgut rice to purify the White Kernel Goa Dhan-1 and the Red Kernel Goa Dhan-2 from the Salt-tolerant Korgut rice of the Khazan lands.
Goa Dhan 2 rice is red kernel like Jyothi, which is a hot favourite among Goans. However, this mid-duration (120-130 days from sowing to harvesting) rice grows about one and half metres tall and bends over with the weight of the grain.
This makes the crop difficult to harvest with the combine harvester that is now popularly used. The shorter and studier Goa Dhan 1 has everything right, but being fair is not lovely for rice grains!
A new variety, Goa Dhan-4 (JK-238), has been developed from a cross between Jyothi and Korgut varieties that are popular in Goa. It is a red kernelled rice variety that is short (1.1 m tall) and can be mechanically harvested.
The new variety does very well under normal rain-fed conditions and yields 3.0 to 3.5 tonnes of grain per hectare (= 2.5 acres). In normal conditions of irrigation water, it yields up to 5.5 tonnes per hectare.
The khazans, said to be created by Parashuram with dykes (bandhs) and sluice gates (manos), are truly our khazana or wealth!
GOA'S RICE SCENE
Mechanical seedling transplanters and combine harvesters make it possible to transplant rice quickly in the khazan lands as well as in the ker and morod lands.
We need to revive the practice of storing crop seeds in the post-Covid era as was done during the economic blockade of EIP Goa from 1954 to liberation in 1961. The sale of rice seeds has more than doubled this year because of the poor yield last year.
Fr George Quadros is shifting his focus back to South Goa, now that North has got the hang of the process.
Rice cultivation is spreading like wildfire, from Digaum Bandh to Bandol in Chinchinim, under the leadership of Adv Agnelo Furtado. It is a model that other comunidades would do well to follow. It is a sign that Goa will become greener in time.
The author is a former Chairman of the GCCI Agriculture Committee, CEO of Planter's Choice Pvt Ltd, Additional Director of OFAI and Garden Superintendent of Goa University, and has edited 18 books for Goa & Konkan