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Time Is Ripe For Economic Restructuring

Nandkumar M Kamat

We may call it Goa Hybrid Chilli Promotion Syndrome – meaning ignore  traditional crops which bring assured profits and run after something else if you have a powerful private sponsor. There is huge demand for local varieties of chillies especially Harmal, Khola, Aldona, Moira types. For all 28 documented varieties of local chillies the agriculture department has a single solution for the traditional farmers- abandon these centuries old local strains and adopt high yielding Nisha hybrid variety- a tasteless less pungent rubbery form which is not popular with Goans. By luring a few local farmers to overproduce this hybrid chilli variety by giving subsidies the agriculture department sent a clear message that it is not concerned to meet the real demand for 28 diverse traditional local varieties of chillies just because the department is trained to promote only hybrid varieties and still speak of organic farming.

The tragic part of the much-hyped Nisha hybrid chilli promotion project was that finally government was forced to spend money on transport to sell few metric tonne of the unsold Nisha hybrid chilli crop in Belgaum market which already had an oversupply of such chillies. But we have not seen agriculture department opening counters to sell quality Harmal and Khola or Moira or Aldona chilli crops produced by encouraging their local producers. The failure on domestic Chilli front is an example of how government systematically ruins centuries old sustainable models of local economy and employment.

The present recession gives ample time and opportunity for restructuring of the economy. Problems come with built in solutions. Challenges come with opportunities. The present situation provides the state government and all economically active stakeholders opportunities for restructuring the three sectors of economy-primary or agricultural, secondary or manufacturing and the tertiary or the service sector. Completely tied to global demand and supply equations, it is a myth that only mining and tourism would salvage Goa’s economy. It shows the total ignorance of informal sector and sustainable existing employment. There are three types of economies in Goa- the official economy reflected in state domestic product, the informal economy for which government has no mechanism to capture and compute domestic product and the unofficial or parallel economy which generates wealth by unauthorized means and tax evasion. The unofficial or parallel economy is larger than official economy and the affluence which we see around in the state is mainly because of this wealth.

Let us take the poor man’s popular gambling pastime- Matka which is a well-oiled interstate gambling network informally employing more than ten thousand people. The state revenue from the annual turnover of billions of rupees from Matka is limited to some petty fines. There is no revenue or economic intelligence bureau at the state level to keep an eye over the parallel economy.  There are two employment sectors in Goa- the organized or formal sector and the unorganized or informal sector. It is the informal sector of informal economy which has been the traditional backbone of Goa’s economic resilience.

Ask a woman selling ripe coconuts at the roadside. She herself cannot believe that people are forced to buy coconuts at Rs 40-50 each. The production cost of a coconut is less than two rupees.  Beyond official market sub yards nobody knows how many million coconuts are sold. But by end of the day the coconut seller would go home with a clean non-taxable profit of Rs 500 minimum.  We purchase sweet potatoes from Taleigao at the rate of Rs 150 per kilogram. The production cost is less than Rs 10. For decades the Goa Toddy Tappers Association has been asking to support dedicated coconut plantations for toddy tapping. Because there is tremendous value addition to coconut toddy by bioconversion into distilled Coconut Feni, fermented Vinegar and crystallized Coconut Jaggery. For all these three products the supply is far less than demand. The first restructuring therefore needs to begin from refocussing in decentralized occupation specific manner in informal economy sector where existing employment opportunities are sustainable without depending on government assistance. Just coconut-based production and processing enterprises could retain, sustain and create thousands of jobs and decent profits.

The government has shelved two important reports contributed by committees under my chairmanship on rejuvenation of the informal sector (2010) and a detail roadmap on food processing industry (2011). A simple step to create more jobs and put more money in the hands of cultivators is primary and secondary processing of the farm produce. A small packaging company in Dhargal Pernem has been successful in sorting, grading, packaging and branding several types of vegetables in a ready to use and cook form by marketing these in urban centres of Goa.

So systematic conversion of fresh farm produce into value added products must be the goal of restructuring the economy. Tie these production and packaging chains to efficient door delivery services and Goa would witness an employment boom in disseminating quality farm produce. In 1970s NIO, Dona Paula demonstrated and popularized raft culture of green mussels called as Shinanyo successfully. Bumper yields were harvested. Where is this project now despite the entire coastline of Goa being ideal for raft culture of protein rich medicinal mussels?

This is a perfect example of failure of fisheries department in taking the technology to the masses on a sustained basis. It has to proactively look into diversity of fish catch and the profits made by the lessee of fishing rights at the 600 sluice gates and plan systematic stocking of Goa’s estuaries, creeks and backwaters with local varieties of fish. But at present ironically it is the revenue department which is managing these auctions without any knowledge of fisheries. Such contradictions define economic governance in Goa. A little restructuring of this entire business of sluice gate based fishing can create many sustainable employment opportunities. Such decisions need resolute political and administrative will and incorruptible leadership.

A simple microenterprise related to health and nutrition is seasonal supply of tender shoots of the wild local edible fern-Ankur- Acrostichum aureum which grows only in mangrove areas. It is a remedy against several illnesses. Marketed in small bunches in June so far no attempts have been made either by forest or agriculture department to promote its artificial cultivation. This fern is superior to Asparagus used globally in cuisine so one can imagine its tremendous cultivation and business potential.

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