Fallow fields in mining belt now produce vegetables
FARMERS in the mining belt who had given up cultivation to make a living from mining are returning to the fields. It is largely attributed to the uncertainty of resumption of mining that has been shut down for a few years. The Goa State Horticulture Corporation (GSHC), which has been encouraging farmers to grow local vegetables, is well-suited to use the opportunity offered in the mining belt for increasing vegetable production in the state. GSHC officials express hope that revival of farming in the mining belt would be a win-win situation for the farmers as there is a big demand for locally produced vegetables in the market that command premium rates and the GSHC was ready to give them remunerative prices. The GSHC has set a target for procuring 1,200 tonnes of vegetables for the current financial year as against 700 tonnes in the previous year.
Agriculture, which was the traditional occupation of Goans, has been on the downslide for a number of factors such as growth of education which has increased the tendency among the new generations to seek white collar jobs, rather than soiling hands in mud. A large number of landowners prefer to keep their plots uncultivated for some years in order to convert them to residential plots and sell them. The return of farmers in the mining belt is a story of agriculture in reverse. If cash crops help families in the belt get respectable incomes they could inspire more and more farmers to return. Revival of agriculture in the mining belt would help even the local people to get fresh, green, healthy local vegetables, something they might have been missing for years. Perhaps the state government can provide larger funds to the GSHC to promote cultivation of local vegetables in the mining areas. Not all of the two or three lakh people left unemployed by mining shutdown might gain from the revival of agriculture, but even if a few thousands are helped to make a decent living that way, the state government could count it as a good achievement.
Apart from the farmers who have returned to farming after mining shutdown there are farmers living in the mining belt who never gave up their traditional occupation. This newspaper recently featured Nagesh Samant, one of such farmers from Tatodi, Dharbandora who resisted the lure of mining and continued with his cultivation. Nagesh and his son Varadh are now progressive farmers and earn a respectable income from their produce. They resisted the pressure to sell their land to mining companies when mining was at its boom. They took up experimental farming of high yielding horticulture crops, which paid off well. Their income from cultivation has come to add to much more than what the mining companies had offered them. There could be many other farmers like Nagesh and Varadh who love farming and do not mind experimenting with newer and newer cash crops. The opportunity for such progressive farmers is immense. The state government must provide such farmers more incentives. The agriculture department could try to grow vegetables and other cash crops whose overall yield is low.
There is growing demand for organic vegetables which fetch even higher rates. However, their production is limited and needs to be enhanced. Goa can tap the growing demand by encouraging more and more farmers to take up organic farming. They could be provided training and orientation for that. Resources needed to sustain organic cultivation should be provided to them. Availability of local organic produce will slowly make consumers go for it in preference to the vegetables produced with chemicals that come from other states. Organic produce has a market all over and if Goa can produce organic vegetables on a large scale it can take benefit of the cargo hub that is supposed to come up at the Mopa International Airport which will be opened in a few years to export farm produce. Organic production should also be encouraged in the mining belt. As it is, local vegetable varieties are grown across Goa without much use of chemicals. Even if organic production takes some time to be developed, locally grown vegetables can still grow their presence in the vegetable markets.