Goan food is unimaginable without spices and spices have been cultivated and used in local cooking for centuries. There are various spices which are cultivated in the state as local climatic conditions are highly suitable for cultivation of spices. From the marketing point of view also spices are the right fit to cultivators.
It may be noted that the farmers in the state mostly go for cultivation of spices as intercrop. The cultivation is in kulagars where areca nut trees are planted. The cultivation bring additional revenue to the farmer and if a farmer has a kulagar with big trees and the space between these trees is vacant then variety of spices can be cultivated as an intercrop. Spices grow under shades of big trees where there is only little light passing through the canopy. In the shade there is no need of separate watering for the intercrop as the same water which is for bigger trees is drawn by the spice plants.
The spices which are cultivated in the state include black pepper, nutmeg, mace or jaipatri (also a part of nutmeg). Black pepper after processing is converted to white pepper which fetches about 30 per cent extra price. The cultivation of all these spices however is not be on a large scale due to various reasons and most farmers sell their produce to Goa Bagayatdar.
The export potential of spices is significant. But according to the information available from sources, there is no direct export taking place from the state. However the local market is robust and selling locally is viable. The rates vary as per demand and supply, but generally it is good. Black pepper is priced around Rs 400/kg, nutmeg Rs 560 per kg and cinnamon at Rs 150 per kg. The rates fluctuate and the fluctuations are not always beneficial to the farmer.
A farmer said, “The spices offer significant health benefits and contribute towards an individual’s healthy life. They add flavor and nutrients to dishes. Selling spices is not a problem as the demand is good.” He added that, the practice of intercropping makes use of land between the other plants in the farm. It offsets the constraints of land scarcity in the state due to which farmers cannot go in for large-scale commercial cultivation unlike others states.
On the other hand, cultivation of spices like nutmeg on small scale is also feasible as the profit is good in nutmeg with a market price of around Rs 400 to 600 per kg of nutmeg (with shell) and Rs 700 to 900 per kg (without shell.) The nutmeg is harvested from June to September. Harvesting takes normally five to seven years for the beginning of production and the produce is somewhere between three-five kgs per plant at the beginning. Once the nutmeg plant matures viz. after 10 years the yield increases to 10 to 12 kgs per plant, according to the information available from the sources.
Among spices in the state, pepper is the most cultivated with the plant taking up the most area under spice cultivation. Goa produces more than 200 tonnes of pepper every year. The production in 2014-15 was 244 tonnes, followed by 258 tonnes in 2015-16 and 282 tonnes in 2016-17. There is good market for local pepper, according to cultivators. Information gathered from the sources reveals that unlike other agricultural produce, marketing for pepper is not an issue. The demand is robust because consumption is by all.
India is a major exporter of pepper and has a long established tradition of commercial cultivation by smallholders and during the Portuguese period also the pepper was grown, according to the information available from the sources.
The farmers prefer to cultivate pepper after the rains as plantation of pepper should be avoided during the heavy rains as it may get spoiled. Harvesting is done in the months of December – January and latest it may be harvested in the month of February. When the pods turn yellowish pinkish in colour they are ready for harvesting. To obtain black pepper, fruiting spikes are harvested when fruits are fully grown but still green and shiny and the fruit spikes are left in heaps overnight for brief fermentation and the next morning, the mass of spikes are usually spread to dry in the sun for about four to five days.
A farmer said, “There is huge demand for spices in the markets and whatever is produced get sold as the spices apart from used in cooking are also used in medicines and so going for commercial cultivation of spices is profitable, however not much interest is shown by the farmers in the state in commercial cultivation of spices. Only some farmers cultivate on a commercial scale.”
Earlier most of the people were at home and used to work in agricultural fields and their livelihood was dependent on the yield they get from the cultivated crops and so they used to cultivate various variety of crops in the fields they own. However, now the manpower has decreased as local youth prefer jobs and hardly devote time to work in the fields, said a farmer.
The state is also conducive for commercial cultivation of turmeric and ginger, however not much interest is shown by the farmers in it. “We do turmeric cultivation, however not on a large scale and earn some revenue by selling turmeric leaves which are used in preparations like ‘patolay’, a sweet dish. The cultivation is done just before the monsoon or during the monsoon season so that there is no need to water the plants. Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes and when not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled and there is a process to be followed which is time consuming and one has to put hard work so normally we don’t go for rhizomes processing on commercial basis,” a woman from Pernem taluka said.
She added, “Nowadays the turmeric or ginger are easily available in the market and the rates are also affordable. For cultivation of these crops we have to put extra efforts and now younger generation is going for work so it is difficult to get more hands to work in agricultural fields. Further after the crop is ready we have to find market for it. The whole process of cultivation and marketing requires effort which is why locals are not going in for commercial cultivation.”
The cultivation of spices like teppal or Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum rhetsa) needs to be boosted in the state. Teppal is used in some fish curries and without it the signature fish curries of Goa would not taste right. The green berries, also known as triphal, are harvested from a tall thorny tree grown in an around the rural areas in August-September, and dried in shade till they split open and the seed is then discarded and the pods are stored.
A local consumer said that we prefer to buy spices cultivated in Goa as less pesticides, or chemical manure is used in the state, however spices grown in Goa are not easily available and all the varieties required are also not grown in the state. Whichever Goan spice is available we prefer to buy them. The organic growing of spices need to be given boost in the state. It will benefit the farmers and also local consumers.