PERNEM: Based in Ibrampur, Darshana Dharma Naik is a shining example for agriculturists. Not only does she tend to an extensive banana plantation, but she’s also a savvy entrepreneur, producing and selling banana chips.
Darshana owns a vast banana plantation, which she acquired as her husband’s ancestral property. Her husband, Dharma Naik, inherited the Goa Mandol banana plantation from his ancestors, a plantation that's been flourishing for about 80 years.
Initially relying solely on selling the bananas, Darshana recognised the potential for value-added products. She decided to venture into making banana chips from the Goa Mondol variety of bananas. Speaking about the versatile banana tree, she said, “For any religious event, we always use a full tree for decoration, and on special days, we eat on banana leaves. We have about 1,000 banana plants. " The market value of each bunch (feno) of 12 to 15 large bananas is around Rs 300,” she said.
Over the past decade, she has been making and selling banana chips, and the response has been overwhelming. While her chips are in high demand, she currently confines her sales to Ibrampur and surrounding areas up to Dhargal.
Darshana believes there’s a significant untapped market for bananas in Goa. Bananas are versatile, used for making vegetable dishes, and certain varieties are ideal for cooking when unripe.
“If the banana plants are planted in a rich alluvial soil, the yield increases. However, harvesting becomes difficult, as the plants grow very tall. Often, a bunch on the stem (godd) grows to a metre long, and we require three people and one ladder to harvest it,” she smiles.
However, maintaining the banana plantation is a meticulous process. The plants need to be replaced every three years, and the location should change as bananas deplete the soil of nutrients. Explaining her method to ensure a healthy plantation, Darshana says, “We buy new saplings at around Rs 30 each and plant them, using manure and various organic fertilisers and pesticides. A plant yields fruit after around nine months of planting.”
“We Goan farmers give it our best in nurturing our plants and harvesting clean, healthy fruit, but we face many challenges.
The floodgates are open to fruit and vegetable imports, and this influx has affected our pricing. Local labour costs are high, which drives up our rates. However, cheaper chemically ripened bananas from outside Goa are flooding the market, impacting our income. We urge the government to support local farmers and ensure fair pricing,” she says.
While Darshana has adapted by making a nifty profit off her banana chips, she laments that the potential of Goa’s Mondol banana variety remains untapped. “It should command higher prices. People tend to opt for cheaper out-of-state produce, but Goan farmers can offer better quality. The government should promote exclusively Goan products and support local farmers. We know that banana chips come from Maharashtra and Kerala, but the farmers of Pernem, with our flavourful bananas, can produce exceptional chips with the right government support,” she says, earnestly.
Bananas play a pivotal role in Goa’s nature-friendly festivals
During the Ganesh festival and the preceding month of Shravan, Hindu families typically observe traditional fasts. While Shravan technically ends before Chaturthi, the fasting continues until they bid adieu to the Ganesh idol. This period involves the consumption of seasonal vegetarian delicacies and numerous religious events. These customs have been passed down through the ages with the primary goal of promoting nature-friendliness and vegetarianism.
In Hindu traditions, certain trees hold significant value during this festive time, and one such tree is the banana tree, which has always been readily available and accessible. These tropical plants play a crucial role in household decorations during religious events like pujas and weddings. In many Indian states, including Goa during festivals, food is traditionally served on banana leaves instead of plates. Some hotels in Goa are even adopting this eco-friendly practice for regular meals. There are two main types of bananas prominently used in this context: the Goa Mondal and Kerala Mondal varieties, while many also prefer the Velchi variety