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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

Goa plans to pay farmers to ‘re-green’ fields to revive agriculture

The government’s belief is that the re-cultivation of the fields will help protect Goa’s age-old and naturally irrigated agricultural lands that have fed the state for many millennia, and the pleasant sight of green fields will help draw more tourists to the sunny state.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2019 14:03 IST
Gerard de Souza
Gerard de Souza
Hindustan Times, Panaji
Goa’s coastal lands - also known as khazans - are a source of food for its villagers who reside in the coastal regions.
Goa’s coastal lands - also known as khazans - are a source of food for its villagers who reside in the coastal regions. ( HT Photo )
         

In a bid to revive agriculture, as well as help promote tourism in the state, the Goa government proposes a scheme to pay farmers to revive agriculture and ‘re-green’ the fields that have been lying fallow some for close to four decades.

The government’s belief is that the re-cultivation of the fields will help protect Goa’s age-old and naturally irrigated agricultural lands that have fed the state for many millennia, and the pleasant sight of green fields will help draw more tourists to the sunny state.

According to the scheme envisaged by the government, farmers should not be looked upon merely as farmers but as ‘paryavaran saunrakshaks’ (environment protectors) and should be given Rs 60 per square meter they bring under cultivation, in addition to other benefits that would be over and above the existing subsidies and minimum support prices.

“A majority of lands that are fallow are in the coastal areas and low lying areas. The scheme is under active consideration by the government and is expected that it will be finalised shortly,” agriculture director Madhav Kelkar said.

The government thought up the scheme primarily to develop a sustainable model to motivate local farmers to re-engage with agriculture besides also protect the coastal lands -- known as khazans -- from being lost to rising sea levels, increasing salinity, and climate change.

Goa’s khazan lands date back to 400 AD when the earliest references are found in literature, to lands that were protected from the sea and tides through a network of bunds and sluice gates that controlled the flow of water and ensured that the lands were cultivable. The network is considered an engineering marvel.

According to government figures, Goa has about 18,000 Ha. of khazans or about 5 per cent of the total geographical area of the state of which around 4,000 Ha. area is estimated to already have been lost over the last thirty years.

The state hopes the pleasant, refreshing view of the green fields will bring in more tourists which could further benefit the farmers as interested tourists could -- in exchange for a small fee -- be shown around the fields explaining the importance of the ‘unique’ khazan lands.

“We can also promote yoga tourism, cultural tourism, etc in these refreshing environments,” Kelkar added.

However, farmers remain sceptical.

“If the government is serious, and we have doubts whether it really is, it should set up community farming units in each village and help these units cultivate the fields. We in Candolim (a coastal village in North Goa) have been trying for many years now to restart agriculture, but without much assistance from the government have been unsuccessful,” Roshan Matias, a farmer said.

He, however, admitted that re-greening the fields will bring a better environment for all and be an added selling point for Goa Tourism but that right now, it was more talk and less action.

This isn’t the first time the Goa government has mooted the idea of using agricultural fields to revive the declining tourism industry in the state. Former agriculture minister Vijai Sardesai, now part of the opposition, had mooted the idea of having shacks among the lush fields serving freshly brewed beer as a means to supplement farmers’ incomes.

“If we can have a shack on the beach, then why not a shack in the agricultural field?” Sardesai had asked.

First Published: Oct 10, 2019 14:03 IST

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