- Producing farmers, not just crops
Producing farmers, not just crops
For someone who has worked in the Agriculture Department of Goa for a decade and a half and has been the Secretary of the Botanical Society of Goa since 1996, Miguel Braganza has a list of credits to his name. Eager that his work speak for himself, DEEPA GEORGE finds out that this passionate Goenkar has been an evangelist for organic farming way before it became fashionable to do so. The brain behind the Konkan Fruit Fest and the Festival of Flowers among others, his motto has always been to move forward and yet be rooted in tradition
You can do work wherever you are placed, provided you have the willingness to contribute positively,” declares Miguel Braganza, who during his stint with the Agriculture Department was instrumental in introducing cashew grafts of the Vengurla series 4 variety that still continues to be popular not just in Goa but across India. Having completed his Masters in Agriculture studies in Bengaluru since there wasn’t a similar facility here, the seed of the idea to establish an institute in Goa took shape in his mind in the mid 1980s but finally came into fruition only in August 2015.
He reminisces, “The initial feasibility report for an Agriculture college indicated that there weren’t enough jobs available for the 40 students that would graduate from the course. Another lot held the opinion that there wouldn’t be enough applicants for the course.” This was proved wrong in 1992, when they received 70 applications for the available 5 seats making it clear that there sure was a demand, only the supply needed to be fixed. Giving credit to Dr HY Karapurkar – former Director of Agriculture, Laxmikant Parsekar, then Chief Minister, Bhaskar Nayak – former Director of Higher Education and Salesians of Don Bosco who allotted land for the college; the Don Bosco Agriculture College came into existence in Sulcorna, South of Margao in 2015. Affiliated to the Goa University, it is a four year course with the first batch of 36 students graduating this year.
Wanting to create more entrepreneurs through this course, Braganza insists that hands on training and the programme ‘Earn while you learn’ as part of the course helps students understand costing, packaging, marketing and accounting. While it may not be necessary to have a formal degree to get into Farming and Agriculture, it is a branch that shows great potential offering varied employment opportunities. Adds Braganza, “We have many examples these days of youngsters starting novel businesses in farming. Suprajit Raikar in Benaulim gave up engineering and started beekeeping. Today, ‘Raika’ brand of honey and coconut oil is available in the market. Ajay Naik, a software engineer began a unique start up in hydroponics and marketing salad greens through his venture Letcetra Agritech Pvt. Ltd. Similarly, Nestor Rangel from St Estevam bought 5 lakh sq mts of khazaan land under cultivation last year and is aiming for 20 lakh this year. Through his dairy farm in Valpoi, he produces 500 litres of milk a day. Another young entrepreneur, Galston D’Souza, an aeronautical engineer produces Panchagavya bottles and markets it.”
If agriculture lacked glamour in the past, these young role models seem to have paved the way in making organic farming trendy. Besides, how can food ever get outdated as a concept? If we are what we eat, making healthy vegetables, grains and fruits available will always be in demand and will be the barometer to the nation’s health. However ‘organic’ need not necessarily come at a premium price. “Certification to my mind is a sham,” reveals Braganza. “Each pesticide test costs Rs 2500 per chemical so it’s a random test for the most commonly used pesticides. Nowadays, people use liquid based pesticides and not powder based which are systemic and hence can’t be spotted easily. Besides, certification agencies charge exorbitantly adding to the cost of the produce.”
Through the Botanical Society of Goa, Braganza has also been instrumental in organising the Konkan Fruit Festival and the Festival of Plants & Flowers that is held at St Xavier’s school in Siolim every year. These fests aim to promote local fruits and through it, the local traditions and delicacies in making jams and juices. He avers, “Organic farming is based on the principle of doing what was traditionally done and by using innovation and scientific methods increase productivity and quality.” He explains, “In 2001, we worked with kokum. Today, it is exported to USA as a health drink. Earlier the price was Rs 30-35 a kilo, now it’s gone up to Rs 120 a kilo making it economical to process. This has also led to innovations with kokum wines being introduced in the market. This year, jackfruit was introduced at the Biofach Fest in Germany for the first time as a vegan alternative to meat.”
Farming is slowly gaining prominence and is perceived as an employment and income generator. As Braganza rightly points out, “Goa’s development model has too many vested interests. There is a lot of money to be made in construction and brokering and unfortunately money is king these days. But if we see potential in farming, there is hope for a green Goa.” Offering a novel solution to the mining impasse, he suggests, “Mining addicts need to join farming! An excellent example in the Codli mines area is that of N V Eco Farm, set up by Mahesh Patil – an existing proof of the possibility of what can be done.” Citing the example of China in bench terrace farming, he adds, “Mines can be an eco tourism spot and can be a lucrative proposition with the right vision and effort. Besides, mine lease holders also have surface rights making it easier to develop for tourism.”
Braganza is pragmatic and hopeful for the future. Happy that a number of schools have agriculture as a course, he comments, “Especially government schools have found it useful in getting 100% pass percentage. These are soft skills that help students develop entrepreneurial skills and venture to begin working on their own.” Through competitions conducted by the Botanical Society of Goa that reward and recognise home growers of organic vegetables, an increasing number of people are joining the ever growing organic farming family.
Braganza confesses with a chuckle, “I am an innovator at heart. The only two areas that have sustained or remained a constant in my life - marriage and the Botanical Society.” On a positive note, he concludes, “Youngsters are the way forward and role models for the next generation. We need to hand over the baton to them. I am confident they will do better than us.”