Professor turned farmer Sandra Fernandes of Green Growth Institute, Sangolda is working hard to not only promote organic farming but farming as a promising career option. NT BUZZ speaks to her about the talk which she will be hosting today and why she wants to make farming glamorous
ARTI DAS | NT BUZZ
If you think tilling the soil, working under the harsh sun and making your hands dirty is not your dream job, then you have to meet Sandra Fernandes from Sangolda who is working hard to give farming a different ‘look’ in order to attract new, young farmers and make it a profitable career option.
This week’s Friday Balcao will have Sandra speaking on the topic, ‘Organic farming as a career option in Goa.’ The topic sounds impressive and promising and, Sandra assures that there is a now an emerging market for organic produce, due to awareness on healthy food and increase in lifestyle diseases that forces people to opt for nutritious and healthy food.
“Now people do not mind spending as they have understood the ill effects of chemically laden vegetables. That’s the reason you will now see dedicated counters in supermarkets for organic produce,” says Sandra who turned a farmer five years ago. During this interaction she will also speak about the paradise tree which is also called laxmantalo. “This tree came from Mexico to Goa. It is a fruit tree and its fruits which look like jamun are used to make wine. This tree is just like coconut tree as every part of it is used. Due to its medicinal properties, it is a boon for people who suffer from diabetes and cancer,” says Sandra.
Sandra also runs an NGO, Green Growth Institute, where they focus on educating students on farming and how it is no less important than any other white collar job.
“I mainly work with students and conduct various awareness programmes in schools where I focus on being an organic farmer. But, initially when I started I didn’t get good response. Once in a class I asked students what they want to become and most answers were they want to become engineers, actors, etc, but none farmers. So, when I asked who wants to be a farmer, only two hands were raised and they were also hesitant to say that they want to be farmers. When I asked students why farming is not a career option, students replied saying that a farmer is always the one who looks dirty, soaked in soil and is a very unglamorous profession. When I heard that reply, I was stunned. But, also that was the reality. So, next time I met these students I took them to the field and introduced them to a farmer who was wearing overalls, field helmet, and all gears with tools. When children saw this look, they were quite impressed and initially they didn’t believe that she is a farmer.”
After this exercise, eight students opted to be farmers and they were even felicitated at the Harvest Festival, which is being held at Sangolda.
Many believe that the main hurdle towards farming is availability of land. However, Sandra confirms that smaller the place the better it is to carry out organic farming. “It becomes much easier to control pests and also to manage it,” says Sandra who further suggests that 80 square metres to 90 square metres of land is enough to grow food for eight people. One can grow chillies, tomatoes, spring onions, herbs, bitter gourds, etc. Sandra, who is also involved in SRI (System of Rice Intensification) method of paddy cultivation, says 1,000 square metres of land is enough. And if one would like to attempt high-tech farming one can opt for polyhouses, vertical farming (ideal for terraces) and also hydrophonics. “For these types of farming one requires to invest in infrastructure like drip irrigation, etc, and the initial investment can range from `3 lakh to `5 lakh. But, now the state government is giving subsidies even up to 90 per cent. So, one can avail those benefits,” says Sandra.
However, she cautions that organic farming is like any other profession where you need to do your background research and must be willing to put in hard work. “Most of the time people are not aware about the demands of the market and thus suffer. So, it is very important to do thorough market research on what people like to buy, what’s the demand, etc,” says Sandra who further elaborates that there should be more help and assistance from Department of Agriculture. “I believe that the department should help a farmer right from sowing to harvest time. As there are many hiccups on the way and sometimes a farmer does require professional help. Also the produce is perishable in nature and that’s why it becomes necessary to get to know the market and also some help from the government,” says Sandra.
She also mentions that one can sell produce through personal contacts or via social media which makes the process easier. “According to me one can sell their produce through traditional practice by around 25 per cent and the rest through personal contacts and social media.”
(Friday Balcao will be held on May 13, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Goa Desc Resource Centre, No 11, Liberty Apartments, Feira Alta, Mapusa. Sandra Fernandes will speak on ‘Farming as a profitable career option in Goa’. It is open to all.)