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Sweet, sunny days

Miguel Braganza

Have you ever wondered why the great October Revolution Day is celebrated in November? Well, the answer is simple: the revolution took place on October 25, 1917 while Russia was using the Julian calendar. This date now falls on November 7 because the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) adopted the Gregorian calendar as did every other country after the end of the First World War in 1918. As per the Julian calendar and the Indian solar calendar, the Gregorian January 14 is New Year’s Day or Makar Sankranti. It is the day the sun moves towards the North from the Tropic of Capricorn. The daylight hours become longer, the ambient temperature becomes warmer and the berry fruits begin to ripen. It is a season for boram, mattoma, konneram, churna and charam. The cashew and mango trees begin to flower and the bees start aggregating honey in the combs and bee-boxes. South India celebrates Pongal while the Western regions celebrate it with haldi-kumkum and tilgul or jaggery-coated sesame seeds as well as a zatra.

The plant that symbolises the event is the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) that looks like the radiant sun with bright yellow petal-like ray florets. This flower is actually a joint family of hundreds of flowers living together in one cluster. The ray florets attract bees that end up pollinating the disc florets that set seeds and yield sunflower oil. The bees use the sunflower pollen to feed their young ones. Human beings cultivate the sunflowers; enjoy its beauty, its seeds and the seed oil as well as the honey produced by the bees that eat the pollen that is not consumed by humans. In this one plant we can celebrate co-existence.

With a geographical area of 3702 square kilometres, the state of Goa has a coastal belt along the Arabian Sea and hinterland of the Western Ghats or the Sahyadri range. The talukas Canacona, Sanguem, Dharbandora and Sattari, fall under the Western Ghats in the state with the foothill extension in the talukas of Quepem and Ponda. The 1424 square kilometres of forest has major honey yielding trees of soap-nut or rhintto (Sapindus mukorossi), jambul (Syzygium cumini) and other species, mango (Mangifera indica); the Goa State tree matti (Terminalia elliptica), kindal (Terminalia paniculata), goting (Terminalia bellirica); nano (Lagerstroemia indica) and other species including Lagerstroemia flos-reginae and other trees. The bees perform the task of pollination in commercial crops, coconut trees (Cocos nucifera), areca nut trees (Areca catechu), corn (Zea mays), sunflower, vegetable plants and other plants to produce honey.

The Apis cerana indica bees are nested in many natural abodes and the honey is indiscriminately and unsustainably harvested by local people for honey. These colonies are not allowed to multiply in unprotected forest and other breeding sites. Each hive of bees can yield between eight and 19 kilograms of honey during the honey flow season. One square kilometre of multiple flowering forest vegetation can accommodate five hives with five super chambers to yield around fifty to hundred kilograms of honey between the months of November to May. With sugar losing its demand, the sugar factory shut down and sugarcane production likely to get phased out, the demand for honey is naturally on the rise like the sun on Makar Sankranti. The sunflower may well be a crop option, too.

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