Tribal Farmers in South Goa want a market for their wares
Kumeri farming is a traditional form of farming practised by the tribals of Goa. Before the advent of the first rain, a piece of forest land is cleared by chopping off and burning the vegetation. As soon as the monsoons begin saplings of vegetables, pulses or millets are planted and cultivated. The land is reused and the crops are rotated for 3 annual seasons after which the land is once again allowed to fallow and return to the forest.
For hundreds of years, Kumeri farming ensured food sufficiency of the tribal farmers. In the last few years however the commercial prospects of selling their crop in the market have become apparent. It has since become an important source of income for these marginalized communities.
“The tribal has very little to do with life outside the forest,” says Community Correspondent Devidas Gaonkar from South Goa, himself a tribal. “Most of the people are illiterate and only recently did they grasp the commercial value of the Kumeri produce.”
Meanwhile, agricultural and forest experts in Goa are stressing the importance of Kumeri farming being regularized. They fear that it may lead to wanton deforestation and affect Goa’s diverse and fragile ecosystem. But at the same time, estimates figure that it is the sole income and subsistence for over 5000 families in the state. The
government has alternatively tried to ban and then allow the practise but there have no attempts at concrete steps to mediate and solve this
“It is myopic to blame the tribal for disturbing Goa’s eco-system,” says Devidas. “Periodic clearing of the forest land before leaving it to regenerate is our traditional way of life and it has only enriched and helped preserve the soil and the eco-system. It is the authorities who have to get their act together. If they want to regularize Kumeri farming, they can start by building a market where the tribals can sell their produce.”
The farmers currently have to resort to makeshift roadside stalls to sell their vegetables and pulses. Devidas who has made a video on Kumeri farming is working along with the farmers within his community to draft a petition for a market place.
“It is not just a matter of livelihood,” he says,” It is also a part of our culture and identity. How can one talk about preserving the eco-system without preserving the culture of the tribal who has lived in the forests for years? The way of the tribal is also the way of the forest. The eco-system and Kumeri are not two opposite sides of the debate as the government and experts have projected it. If you cannot understand that, you should ask a tribal.”