It’s no secret that Goa is going through major development with construction happening at almost every corner. There are building complexes coming up, bridges being built and even the highway is being expanded. It’s a lot for India’s smallest state to take. Unfortunately, all this is also taking a toll on more traditional occupations like fishing and farming which is what Goans have done in the villages for years. Real estate development seems to be on the rise and it is for this reason that the good villagers of St. Estavam have taken it upon themselves to revive farming and prevent the fields from being taken over.
The revival of traditional farming in Goa
The river island of St. Estavam is picturesque and has 250 hectares of fields that were once covered in weeds but owned by various people from the village. Now, the rains are almost over and the paddy fields are turning ripe for harvesting. 50 hectares of paddy fields to be exact. These fields are expected to yield 175 metric tonnes of raw paddy. The paddy comes from the Goa Dhan 1 variety of rice seed which is meant for ‘khazan’ lands or saline low-lying agriculture flat beds in Goa.
The locals have taken to farming these lands in the hope of preventing any gated communities from being built on them. There is a very real fear that outside parties could encroach on the agricultural lands and put up such kinds of communities. As it stands, they already foresee a cargo jetty being built on the opposite riverbank.
At first, this pilot project was not approved but 9 months later, it is being monitored by the state government. There are plans to put this into practice in every village in the state.
A project like this needs support from all involved
It hasn’t been an easy journey. The locals in this village are mostly from the seafaring community. “The village is mainly of ‘tarvottis’ (seafarers). To get them to think cultivation was a challenge,” says parish priest Father Eusico Pereira who has lived in the village for the last 6 years and crossed the fallow fields every day to deliver his sermons.
Another realization was that there was no immediate knowledge of who exactly owned the fields. This was due to the fact that many people have moved abroad and documentation was not easily available. Others didn’t trust this plan, believing that it was another scam to move in on their agricultural land and take over it.
There were regular appeals for assistance at the morning sermons. They asked the congregation to hunt for documents, land records, families to probe heirs and land deeds. The initial group that formed — with the support of a few dedicated locals — pulled the village map from the parish, and details of families from its register.
Revive farming and move forward
The project will take time to reach its full potential. According to Sahitya Akademi award winner, Damodar Mauzo, Goans are “struggling to retain” their identity, culture, language, and festivals — and this project must be seen in context.
“A changing demographic is our concern, with the migrants and gated communities. We welcome them, but this fear is real. The lands that remain uncultivated suffer in two ways. Many families who leave the shores take too long to return, with their lands either lost, in dispute or taken away by politicians and sold in huge real estate deals. In this context, this project is something we must appreciate,” says Mauzo, who is based in south Goa’s Majorda.
It’s alarming to learn that rice cultivation has been on the decline in the last few years. From 1,15,068 tonnes in 2015-2016 to 1,13,227 tonnes in 2016-2017, and 1,02,997 tonnes for 2017-2018.
Which is why this project is so very important. In St. Estevam, locals are asked to help in whatever way they can. Be it with money, allowing others to till their land or even show up to do the work themselves. The bottom line is that collective farming needs to happen if they are to achieve their goal.