Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Surviving monsoon in Goa, with nature’s special gifts

That monsoon is really difficult time in Goa, is a warning I got since the day I landed here. But then it was the height of winter. So, it was almost impossible to accept the warning wholeheartedly as I couldn’t imagine a Goa that without its usual sunny days, the quiet, blue sea and the lazy beaches.

The first shock, however came when the fishing ban came in force in mid-June.  The ban makes it mandatory for all fishing boats and trawlers to stop their activities until the end of July, to ensure a smooth and undisturbed breeding period. With shock came worries – what would I eat when there were no sea food?

By June end my worries had been multiplied. For 10 days, it had been raining non stop, The sea roared dangerously. Stretches of fields on both sides of the road looked like a massive water body.  The tiny vegetable kiosks by the roadside had closed down because of the strong wind. The supermarkets in the town that usually kept a small stock of vegetables, now displayed empty racks as the supply trucks had not come for days.

After two weeks, finally, there was a little sun and I decided to go to Mapusa – the next town, in search of fresh fish and no vegetables. I entered without much expectation and was immediately hit by the surprising sight: The market was full of vendors – mostly women – selling things I had never imagined before.

To begin with, there were green leafy vegetables of different kind. The women were selling them in tiny piles, making it obvious that these were straight out of their own farm. The freshness and aroma hinted of their organic nature. There were wild mushrooms, sold in bunches, collected from the hills and locally grown corns. And then there were edible ferns – a vegetable I had earlier eaten only in North-East, looking fresh and tempting.

Encouraged by this sight, I was curious to know if there was something new and local in the fish market too. I wasn’t disappointed. Selling in bunches were fresh water crabs and shrimps, beside a few regular varieties.

“Goa always has a back up food system for monsoon”, says Sameer Malik, a resident of Bicholim in north Goa, with a smile. “ Come monsoon and villagers will be on their way to the forest and stream to search for crabs and mushrooms” he adds.

According to Sameer the crabs, the mushrooms or the ferns are all collected only during monsoon. This means they are not over hunted and so Goans do have something special to eat even when the weather is very rough.

Rosario Fernandes, another local based in Calangute, tells me a different story. The boom of tourism has affected agriculture in Goa severely in recent years. People are no longer interested in toiling in the fields. Instead they just build a makeshift restaurant and prefer to earn some easy money. And to suit the palate of the tourists, restaurant owners buy vegetables like capsicum, broccoli, button mushroom or carrots. ‘Most of the year, we get vegetables that are not grown here. It’s only during monsoon when there are no tourists that there is a demand for local vegetable and this is when we finally get to eat these saag (leafy vegetables) and akoor (fern)”, Rosario informs

While both Sameer and Rosario present interesting perspectives, there is something else that I learn on my own: Thanks to the local produce, the ban on fishing stays respected and total. But for this, there would have been violation, I am sure, interfering with the conservation effort. So it’s protecting nature, with the help of one of nature’s own bounties! 

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