Tuesday 15 Jun 2021

The spicy side of Goan heritage

One of the Nari Shakti Puraskar awardees who received the coveted award at the hands of President of India, a botanist and a researcher from Goa, Anuradha Naik shares why and how she helped tribal women farmers in conservation of Khola chillies

| MARCH 17, 2019, 02:44 AM IST

BHARATI  PAWASKAR


It was indeed a moment of pride for  Goan botanist Anuradha Naik as she stepped forward to receive the award - Nari Shakti Puraskar 2018 - at the hands President of India, Ramnath Kovind on the International Women’s Day in New Delhi. She was one of the 44 women including three institutions that bagged this coveted award.   

Nari Shakti Puraskar is given under series of India’s national honours conferred on individual women for their exceptional achievement. Anuradha was honoured with the award for her pioneering contribution in empowering tribal women farmers in Khola Canacona region who are into chilli cultivation. Presently working as research associate at ICAR-Central Coastal Agricultural Research Institute at Old Goa, Anuradha is a post-graduate in Botany with distinction from Goa University and has worked with National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) as research assistant till 2008.  

What made her take interest in Khola chillies? Anuradha remembers that she first noticed bright red chillies drying out on roadsides during her trips to Cabo de Rama fort. “Every time I visited I saw this red carpet. Out of curiosity, I enquired more and learnt that this is Khola chilli which is exclusively grown in this hilly terrain. Almost every household in this entire village is involved in chilli cultivation process. The speciality of Khola chilli is its own flavour and taste. This brilliant red in colour and medium pungent variety has huge demand in Goa as it is used in most Goan food preparations. As a  researcher, these chillies evoked my interest,” states Anuradha.   

Upon visiting them often Anuradha soon realised that the tribal women farmers face a lot of hardships in cultivating these chillies in their hilly region. Yet, for generations, they stuck diligently to it as their source of livelihood. Majority of women in Khola grow these chillies while men support them in their activities. It was here that Anuradha felt that something should be done to help these tribal conservers of local Germplasm of Khola chillies. Germplasm are living genetic resources such as seeds or tissues that are maintained for the purpose of animal and plant breeding, preservation and other research uses. Through ICAR - CCARI Anuradha got the opportunity to work closely with the tribal women and to document their traditional process of cultivation.  

Initially the women would not open up or share information, but gradually they became friendly and shared their issues. “I went across the seven different chilli cultivating wards and visited each and every household to unite more than 600 women who were active in chilli cultivation,” smiles Anuradha who convinced them to form a group. She also emphasised the importance of community work. “I told them how important the work which they all were doing since generations was. That changed their mind set. I also educated them on maintaining hygiene,” briefs Anuradha.   

The chilli is originally from Khola village and the typical taste of this variety is found only at its place of origin. “Of course, it can be grown in other nearby villages but the taste may very due to other edaphic factors,” admits Anuradha who then facilitated the registration of the Khola Canacona Chilli Cultivators Group. She kept documenting their process and helped them to process application for Prestigious Plant Genome Saviour Community Award. This Award is given by Protection of plant varieties and Farmers Right (PPV & FR) Authority, New Delhi for group of farmers who are exclusively conserving local seeds and plant Germplasm. That was something big!  

Anuradha introduced the proper channel of packaging and marketing the chilli products and helped the women to adopt scientific advancements. Now with the help of this they could sell their products in an appropriate way, thereby generating additional income for their livelihood. “It’s a big transformation and I see lot of enthusiasm in them now,” quips Anuradha. She also offered options to explore value addied products such as chilli flakes, green chilli pickle, racheado masala, chilli sauce etc. The women are now earning profit of what they grow and sell in local market. “More profit will pour in once Khola chillies get registered for GI tag,” mentions Anuradha who was awarded Plant Genome Saviour Community Award for her Khola Canacona Chilli Cultivators Group.  

In times when farming is fast vanishing from the face of earth, Anuradha has helped tribal women farmers to upgrade their techniques in agriculture and also preserve the Germplast of their local chilli. To make farming lucrative, Anuradha advocates, “Farmers should shift to organic farming practices and conserve the traditional methods. This helps to retain soil fertility. Minimise the use of chemical fertilisers. Use of natural botanicals can be explored to avoid insect and pests in place of chemical insecticides.”  

Currently two major products prepared at every home in Khola are dried chillies and chilli powder. They are exploring other options such as chilli flakes and chilli sauce. The process of obtaining FSSI licence is in the pipeline. Also application to get Geographical Indication for Khola Chillies is in process with the department of Science and Technology. Once GI is procured the group will also try to explore the possibility of international marketing.   

Anuradha triggered these activities. Thanks to her efforts that tribal women farmers’ struggle to save their local variety of chillies was fruitful. It was in recognition of her efforts that Anuradha was awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar. She now looks at other crops in Goa that need research and preservation - Harmal chillies, zad kanga, kate kanga (tuber crops) and vainge (brinjal) (Agassaim and Taleigao), 5 -7 strip bhende (ladyfingers) from Juve (St Estevav) island, varieties of salt tolerant rice grown on khajan land, mango varieties like Mankurad, Hilario, Fernandin, Malgesh and Karel which grow locally.   

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