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It takes a village to grow a tree

Frederick Noronha

It’s that time of the year when my mind gets caught up with avocados. Sorry, I can’t help it. There’s this one tree outside my home that gets quite laden with fruits in the month of June-July, and so it quite takes over my life at this time of the year.

This is a job one has to anyway do. Before May end, you need to trim the branches of the tree. In the impossible monsoon season, you have to manage to find pluckers for the fruit. You could otherwise have fruit cracking your roof tiles (the avocado has a biggish seed).

In days when labour is hard to come by, there are some options which could help. The age-old ‘kobblem’ (Goan-style fruit plucking device made of rope) might be barely visible these days. But it is replaced by something called a ‘chickoo plucker’. A friend from Moira, Tony de Sa, mentioned that these South Korean devices are available in a particular outlet in Panjim.

To reach the fruit, you need bamboos harvested and seasoned (thus, made light) from the Mapusa ‘taar’ (old canoe crossing) point. When you try to coordinate the manpower with the inclement weather, then you realise how the farming community can struggle against the odds.

But, more than this, success also depends on luck, chance, and the ability to keep on trying. A friendly neighbour, the late Aunty Peggy, who was always experimenting with various new plants and was a village social worker of a very committed kind, happened to plant this tree.

In those times, avocado crops were unheard of in Goa. Till now, people are surprised that the fruit can flourish here. It reminds you of all the experimenting the Portuguese did, way back in the 16th century, with crops and plants from across the globe. The tree actually bears fruit, and in such profusion, during the months of June-July each year.

Somewhere along the way, our daughter, then a teenager, took to selling the fruit. For her, it was a pocket money project. It also became a game of sorts, and she built up a small following on Facebook for this avocado entrepreneurship. In a good year, she could pick up `15,000 in a couple of months. (It also depends on her holiday schedule, the weather and other variables.) Going by rough estimates, that would suggest that a single tree was bearing 600-800 fruit, maybe more as there is some wastage, in a two-month season.

For some reason, the fruit has developed quite a fan following here. Maybe this is because the avocado is not a traditional Goan crop, one which we can take for granted. Scarcity creates its own demand. It is also possible that expat Goans who once knew the fruit in Africa have retained a taste for it. Then, there is also the good press this Central Mexican fruit gets online, with conventional wisdom praising the avocado for its supposed many health benefits.

To be frank, things don’t always move along a smooth ride. At times, it’s hard to get workers to pluck the fruit. But that’s nothing new, Goa’s rich coconut groves suffer from much the same problem. We end up eating tender coconuts grown in Karnataka or Kerala, on the roadside on a warm summer day. Some buyers praise the taste of the crop, but you can get a bad fruit sometimes. Being home-grown though, such products can avoid chemicals or forced ripeners, an issue we have all come to be so sensitive about, after formalin in fish.

Each year, the tree reminds one of what is possible. Goa could have been a state like Kerala, where not a single inch of land (with some exaggeration) seems to be vacant in people’s backyards. People in that state, even alongside the rail track, seem to deploy every available space around their homes to plant useful crops. In Goa, the focus is often more on flowering plants, or land is simply kept vacant.

I sometimes wish that by the time this abundant tree of distant Latin American origins lives its life, it would have spawned more fruiting trees and added to the very few already existing in Goa. Not all avocado trees bear fruit though. But grafting could be a way out. I’m hoping the agriculture department could take gratis some plant material and replicate at least a few grafts among whoever needs it.

This is a tree which teaches a lot of lessons.

Sometimes, solutions and options might be closer than you think they are. Sometimes, they just fall from the skies, as it were, most unexpectedly. But, we also need to remind ourselves how inter-dependent we are on each other. To be able to pluck the fruit on time means managing to get the right mix of devices, people and information. In a Goa where we lack sufficient and well-maintained markets, even Facebook can help sell perishables like fruit. Isn’t it strange how one can learn from a tree?

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