On May 30, 2022, Goa and Goans celebrate thirty-five years of Statehood and the focus is on organic agriculture. Half a year away on either side, on December 19 (Liberation Day), we remember Fr Inacio Almeida, sfx, and his contribution to taking a big leap towards organic as a part of his mission. We call him the ‘Father’ of organic farming in Goa. He preceded Pope Francis and his encyclical Laudato Si', that has given rise to Diocesan Commissions on Ecology across the world. Like St John the Baptist, he preached in the wilderness, first at Pilar and later at Birondem, till Death did us part on the first day of January 2014.
FROM FATHER TO FARMING
Fr Inacio described himself as ‘a son of a farmer who was ordained a priest’ and recalled how his mother would carry, on her head, a sack-full of rice from home in Curtorim to the camiao, across the Zuari river, by ferry, from Cortalim to Agacaim, and from the Pilar camiao stop to the seminary, in lieu of his fees. When his ‘Superior’ asked him to decide whether he was a farmer or a priest, he replied that his work was his sermon and testimony: the two were inseparable!
Obviously, he had to be ‘disciplined’ and into vanvas, he was sent to Birondem, back then a jungle in Sattari taluka of 2006. He worked there like a disciplined soldier until he suffered a stroke on December 18, 2014 and passed into history a fortnight later, at GMC Hospital.
Fr Almeida is a man with a mission, whom we remember every World Environment Day.
“When I arrived here, the locals were disappointed. They mumbled that this desolate place has neither a doctor on call nor a pharmacy, and how will this old man survive in this wilderness? But soon, they realized that the old man’s bones were still strong,” is what Pedro Menezes reported in a then popular tabloid’ issue of May 2013, quoting Fr Inacio Almeida, sfx, seven months before he passed into history on New Year’s Day, in 2014.
On March 6, 2014, the Goa Legislative Assembly, not only observed a minute of silence in his memory, but also instituted an award in his memory.
“A state awardee for farming, Fr Almeida was known for pioneering work in organic farming. He held camps for farmers and involved youngsters into farming, besides developing new technologies. The House later observed a minute-long silence in memory of the departed priest”, reported a newspaper, the next day.
THE CHANGE BEGINS
When I joined the Goa Directorate of Agriculture as a rookie officer in 1983, Fr Almeida was already a well-known name. He had been awarded the ‘Krishi Samrat’ title for highest productivity in sugarcane and other crops, then using all kinds of chemicals.
In 1990, he was sent to the Jatami Centre for Organic Farming, in Japan, and he brought home literature that he pored over, thereafter.
In June, 1993, I returned from my deputation at Goa University and salvaged two Central government-funded projects from the red-tape, while I was an officer awaiting promotion with no fixed responsibilities at the head office. One project was for the promotion of vegetables, and the other, for commercial floriculture.
From being limited to abolim (Crossandra) and mogra (Jasmine) in the first year, I was allowed to add gladioli to the range of flower crops in 1994-‘95.
“Gladioli are seasonal and I planted them with bokashi and gave them a top spray of EM water. I got gladioli (spikes) 1.5 metres in height and 14 flowers per stalk,” Fr Almeida told Dr Claude Alvares in an interview printed in the Organic Farming Source Book (OFSB) published in 2010. That is how I met Fr Almeida in the mid-1990s.
Later, I grew gladioli for a farm in Naneli-Sattari, and we even exported superior flowers back to Bangalore and Pune. Incidentally, the person who worked with me in Naneli back then is now the Zonal Agriculture Officer of Tiswadi, the last post I held in 1996, before joining a private company.
Effective Micro-organisms (EM) and Amrut Pani are what remain as living memorials to Fr Almeida along with the Laxmi Taro, or Simarouba glauca tree, and Jatropha biofuel plant. Students of agriculture and biotechnology learn how to make, and use, these microbial formulations. These are everyday miracles that he taught us to do correctly. He even drank EM solution like a Tequila shot to demonstrate that it was beneficial to the human body!
Like Mother Theresa, he was a living saint and canonization is actually redundant. There are no controversies like inquisition linked to him, as some like to link to the patron of his society, Goemcho Saib. The Government of Goa has instituted an award in his memory. His own ‘society’ may follow one day and institute a scholarship in one of its educational institutions.