Herald: Sowing the seeds of love

Sowing the seeds of love

19 May 2019 05:25am IST
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19 May 2019 05:25am IST
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Historically paddy cultivation has been Goa’s heritage but over the years, various challenges have seen agrarian land in villages lying fallow. The village of St. Estevam has seen a huge revival via the introduction of community farming led by Nestor Rangel, whose efforts to bring together his community and revive farming after 40 years is reaping huge benefits. DEEPA GEORGE shares their story

Nestor Rangel is a man in a hurry with a ‘no-nonsense’ approach. An erstwhile electronics engineer who was based in Mumbai, Nestor returned to Goa with a mission to buy agricultural land and make his foray into farming. He says, “I wanted to own 100 acres of land in Goa. I had grown up hearing my dad talk about communidade fields and watching my aunt grow paddy on her field.” While he may not have reached his target, he stayed true to his intent and since his move in 2006, besides running his own horticulture and dairy farm near Valpoi, he has been instrumental in reviving farming in his beautiful village of St. Estevam. He shares, “Our fields across Goa are being attacked and encroached upon by builders.  As a safeguard, it was necessary to begin farming again. My aim was to get the villagers together, subvert any attempt of encroachment and collectively save our land.”

St. Estevam or Zuvem, perhaps the greenest of all villages, was traditionally known as ‘Ilhas de Verde’ or ‘Green Island’ by the Portuguese. It is also considered to be a role model in many ways, even their expertise in constructing bunds and sluice gates. Nestor admits, “People from St. Estevam are united about preserving our village. We have a long term vision and don’t want unplanned development and buildings to be constructed in our village.”  With the late Fr. Bismarque’s encouragement and Fr. Euscico Pereira’s involvement, they were able to liaison with all those who owned these fallow fields. Under the guidance of Sanjeev Mayekar from Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA), they kick started the process of bringing a community together.  

How does one even begin a mind boggling exercise as this? Quite simply, by breaking it down as Nestor narrates, “Nobody knew the size of their independent plots. The youth of the village being more adept with technology downloaded the land record forms including ‘Form 1&X1V’ needed to survey the khazan lands. These forms were then taken to the Basic Christian Community (somudais) and we managed to track a vast majority of land holding and convinced landowners to be a part of this community initiative. With permissions from landowners in place, seedlings given by the department of agriculture and initial funding from the villagers, we started our community farming initiative on 5 lakh sqm, which is half of the cultivable land available.” With this, the ‘Ilha Verde Farmers’ Club’ was formed. 

Through mechanised transplanting, that is both cost effective and less laborious, thanks to Fr. George Quadros, they were able to plant at Rs. 3.5 a sqm what would otherwise have cost Rs. 5 a sqm. Being a collective, community initiative, they were wise to maximise economies of scale. Given the nature of the khazan land with some parts more saline than others, the ‘Khormut’ rice variety and ‘Jyoti’, a hybrid, fine red variety were grown. They also tried GRS1, a new variety of rice that grows in saline areas using urea. 

Nestor elaborates, “Because of the land lying uncultivated for so long, we also had a huge weeding problem. As a conscious decision, we decided to not use harmful chemicals for de-weeding but instead chose manual de-weeding, which also was an employment and income generator for the many ‘kameris’ (workers) that we employed. Since this work is usually done before the Ganesh holidays, these women earned nearly Rs. 30,000 per person - a neat sum especially in time for a big festival.” 

Their efforts which began with planting in May 2018 resulted in 90,000 kgs of paddy being harvested by end September. The community involved itself in all the processes, including drying of the rice which was done at the church square. Of the entire harvest, with some of the rice being sold to the government and other procurement agents, 50,000 kg of Jyothi rice was retained for residents and the open market. Each 25 kg sack is sold at Rs. 1000 in the market at Rs. 40 per kg.   

While the tough task of transplanting and harvesting the rice was done, it was just as important to sell the rice and convey its emotional journey. Nestor’s friend and accomplice in the marketing mission, Avertino Miranda adds, “We only use social marketing and don’t want to take the retail route which is easier but sterile, lacking connect. By just sending a whatsapp message, we were inundated with calls from Goans across the world and in two weeks, we sold the entire output.” He has future plans for branding, packaging and more importantly creating awareness of the nutritional benefits of consuming brown rice. 

“We were able to pay back 10% more to every investor in our village who had invested. With a profit of 3 lakhs, we used the money to repair the bunds and sluice gates,” adds a content Nestor,  

It is evident that Nestor is driven more by emotion than economics. He admits, “I don’t really calculate how much I put into this financially. My personal farm activities take a backseat with me spearheading this initiative.” It’s no wonder that his accountant wife has given up trying to make financial sense of his personal commitment. 

Nestor is now busy encouraging other villages to adopt this model. He is happy to share the learnings from St. Estevam and initiate Goa on a ‘community cultivate’ mode. As he wisely says, “For people to take up paddy cultivation, they must see it as profitable. Moreover, if it’s done as a collective, there are many advantages.”  He then thoughtfully adds, “This is my way of activism - to protect our fields, make it profitable and in the process, retain Goa’s identity.” St. Estevan just got one more gem in its emerald crown.  
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