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Ponda’s spice farms miss Russian flavour

By Sanjay Borkar | B&C

The ruble freefall against the dollar has forced Russian visitors to give Goa a miss during the ongoing season. Their absence has certainly hit the tourism industry on a whole, including spice farms that form an important part of Goa’s hinterland tourism.Ponda taluka is often promoted as a ‘green’ getaway for many tourists looking for an alternative to the usual sun, sea and surf along the coast. Off-late, agro-ecotourism has gained immense popularity and is turning out to be a major money-spinner. And looking at its business potential, quite a lot of land owners are converting their dormant ‘kulagars’ into spice farms.

The absence of Russians is giving spice plantation owners sleepless nights as their businesses have been considerably affected. Tour operators have also reported that many Russians have cancelled their trips to Goa. Although domestic tourist footfalls are steady, their numbers do not necessarily translate into big bucks as it’s usually the Russians who are known to spend big on spices and other Goan articles.

Spice farms are a big draw among foreigners for the lush forests, multi-crops, butterflies, fish, birds and reptiles. Guests are given a traditional welcome. There are special folkdance performances for them as well. They are given a tour with a personal guide educating them about various organic herbs and spices. Tourists later evince a keen interest in buying these herbs at the in-house store that also sells locally made handicrafts.

Sandeep Satarkar, Tropical Spice Plantation, Arla-Keri, Ponda, reports that the number of Russian visitors has dropped by around 40 per cent this season which normally starts in the first week of October and goes on till April.

Sandeep, who runs the farm along with his brother Rohidas, informs that they both ensure the best service for tourists visiting their farm. “We have 30 workers who have gained employment through our plantation. So it has become tough for us to manage salaries and other expenses due to the absence of Russians this season,” he adds.

Madhav Sahkari of Sahakari Spice Plantation based at Bethora Ponda has also been affected by the Russian drought. “There are several reasons for the Russians not visiting Goa. But the biggest reason is global recession and the ruble freefall,” Sahkari says. And as a result, farms owners like him are forced to depend on domestic tourists.

According to him, the e-visa system has benefitted tourism in the state and added that there is a need to attract more tourists through similar ways.

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