The people of Goa, especially those who have lived here during the colonial era and the early years of Liberation, are familiar with the cultivation of finger millet, or nachni, during the monsoons in Goa from June to September.
The hills would come alive with the slash-and-burn during February-March, around the time of the Holi festival, to prepare the land for shifting cultivation that we call Kumeri in the Konkan belt, and the Nagas call Jhuming in their own land.
The Pal, or a billhook with a half metre long wooden handle, is a tool of the kumeri, which has not been practiced in recent years. The tool is used for clearing the undergrowth in cashew plantations for the harvest season.
The forest fires, this month, have nothing to do with nachni, kumeri or cashew harvesting. They are another kind of ‘development’. However, we can still celebrate nachni and restore its cultivation in Goa.
ABOUT THE CELEBRATIONS
Today, the Zonal Agriculture Office, Duler, Mapusa, led by the soft-spoken but dynamic Sampatti Dhargalkar, is leading us in celebrating the finger millet at the ‘Nachneachem Fest’ on the farm.
The word fest is indication enough that Festakar Marius Fernandes is involved in the event! The Director of Agriculture, Nevil Alphonso, has pulled all the plugs to make sure that the fest will be an event to remember.
Musician O’luv or Olavo Rodrigues; ace percussionist and cheerleader, Carlos Gonsalves; and the one and only Felly Gomes have thrown their hat in the ring to energise the fest. It is going to be an event to remember. So, get movin’ – it’s today from 11 am to 5 pm with no repeat shows like the Carnival floats.
The year’s Carnival saw a float by the Directorate of Agriculture for the first time in history. If you missed that, you can see a part of that performance at the fest today. It promoted nachni as the main millet crop in Goa. This millet was common in Goan food culture as bhakri, or flat bread; and ambil, a fermented beverage or porridge, for breakfast.
O’luv has composed a special song on nachni for the fest.
Local schools have joined hands to celebrate millets with skits, dances and even a monologue on millet. There will be a song and dance on ambil or amil, a health food that is sure to get a revival in this year.
For those with a sweet tooth like me, tizan, both in slurry form or gelatinized, is the favoured millet-based food.
Chef Rukesh Bale of Taj Vivanta will demonstrate the art of making tizan. That is how classy the health food is!
Finger millet has the ability to withstand cultivation from sea level to altitudes over 2,000 m above MSL. It has high drought-tolerance and its grains have a long storage life.
An attempt has been made to increase the area under nachni cultivation in Goa by making seeds available to farmers. This effort is being continued.
One can buy ragi or nachni seed at the fest. Some seed packets are even being given complimentary to farmers and urban gardeners to try this crop in the coming monsoon.
The Directorate of Agriculture has been walking the talk with Nevil at the helm of the team since March 2020, in spite of the pandemic.
The author is the 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