St Estevam, Goa’s island village which took to agriculture last year after 30 years fearing land sharks, has “good news” to share. “Organic paddy, too,” says Nestor Rangel, a local resident and nodal person behind the community farming initiative.
Since March 2018, a “mountain effort” has gone into knocking on the doors of landlords to allow access to their barren fields, the local parish calling farming a “noble profession”, youth using their “Googling and downloading skills” to help senior citizens with land records, and phone calls and Facebook messages to “boys of the house” working on cruise ships to let their land be tilled.
On September 3, 2018, The Indian Express had reported about the initiative, called Illha Verde Farmers Club or the “green village” club: how paddy fields had started flowering in this northern village, surrounded by the Mandovi river, with 50 of the 250 hectares of cultivable land once covered with weed waiting to be harvested.
Today, the residents call the 25-kg red rice sacks being distributed across Goa as the “most emotional journey” a grain in the state could have made. The WhatsApp windows of residents have not stopped buzzing, with Goans spread across the state and abroad asking to hear their story.
“Many orders are symbolic. It is the first project where a village jointly cultivated to deliver a statement: not all land in Goa is for sale. Our agriculture and orchard lands are blatantly being converted to facilitate largescale infrastructure projects with no vision. We want this grain to be the reminder of our green legacy,” says Rangel.
What started as an “experiment” is now being studied by the state government, too. “We are looking into their learnings… We have been visiting saline flat beds and asking farmers about the problems they face as we have to design new schemes for
them. We can say that St Estevam, which has a saline flat bed, is being seen as a success model,” says Madhav Kelkar, Director, Department of Agriculture, Goa.
In St Estevam, the entire village cultivated as one, with 50 hectares given together as one field to the umbrella body run by the villagers. Families took turns to invest in seeds, and other costs, putting together half of the total cost of Rs 15 lakh entirely. “Many families gave cultivation to us, while there were many who also gave us money,” says Bela Fernandes, 52.
During the cultivation stage, two seed varieties, Goa Rice Selection 1 (GRS1), designed for saline low-lying agriculture flat beds, and Jyothi, a red organic variety, were sown by June. The tilling also saw “cameris” (traditional women tillers) and “manai” (male tillers) from mining villages finding employment again.
The mechanisation charges in the second stage of harvesting were cushioned by the government with 45 per cent subsidy of the total Rs 2,200 cost per hour. Against an expected yield of 250 grams per sqm, the fields gave 175 gram per sqm, with several patches where weeds posed a problem.
“While a good crop cycle requires at least three rounds of ploughing — beginning of the year, after the first rain, and right before transplant — the yields were still good considering there was only one round last year,” says Shailendra Afononso, a former sailor who returned to the village.
Of the entire harvest, 30,000 kg of GRS1 was received after processing at a government factory under the state’s assured price, while 40,000 kg of Jyothi was retained for residents and the open market. The church’s courtyard was used to dry the grains manually, and its land as storage space — each 25-kg sack is being sold for Rs 1,000 in the market, at Rs 40 per kg, while residents have to pay Rs 35 per kg.
These days, the men are busy doing the delivery themselves, cutting agents and other costs, with the women overseeing the finances and logistics. The audits are yet to be done, but farmers hope the profits are in place and — with the entire cultivable holding of 250 hectares earmarked for this year — the foundation of a new beginning.