POTATOES ON MY MIND!

IN SEARCH OF SWAYAMPURNA GOA! ACAR-CCAR Director Praveen Kumar presenting the next five years agenda for promoting high end crops in Goa…it was an exhaustive presentation for media people and one of the highlights included the nutmeg taffies and cashew apple crunchies seen here! Pic on left is of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant with Praveen Kumar at a valedictory function for orienting Swayampurna Mitra members at ICAR complex. This is all part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream vision of Atma Nirbhar Bharat project being implemented the country over.

By Tara Narayan

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

EVER since I went for this ICAR presentation on what’s going to happen in the next five years on the agricultural front, I’ve got potatoes on my mind! I mean, who doesn’t love them? Potatoes! Even the new director of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research-Goa at Old Goa, Dr Parveen Kumar, seems to be passionate about potatoes! Plus, he is taking Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s wish for Goa to be self-sufficient at least in vegetables and foodie matters seriously.
Except that we don’t know how long it will take Goa to be independent of its neighbouring mausi Maharashtra and bhau Karnataka to be self-sufficient even in potatoes. Do you know anybody who doesn’t love potatoes? I don’t! Even my best friends (at least I think they are my best friends)love them and are happy eating them morning, noon and night. As the lively Dr Praveen Kumar pointed out in this thought-provoking presentation potatoes and onions are staples in our daily eating and he is a potato scientist.
I CAN never resist the pleasure of an outing out to the ICAR-Central Coastal Agriculture Research Institute at Old Goa or Ela for here are some 56 ha (hectares) of orchard-cum-garden of paradise grounds. I imagine enough for all working here to live in peace with mother earth, I always envy them, forgive me!
Of course, the ICAR-CCARI Goa is also a premier research body and dedicated to promoting the best agricultural practices to grow and spread the message of food for life. These days there’s a lot of ferment around the world on the subject of what must define good air, good water, good food, or as my friend Dr Shiva Ayyadurai of USA would say our collective health status is going down because of “dirty air, dirty water, dirty food.” All of which relates to how we keep our finite mother earth’s womb and bosom fertile, nutritious, blooming and nutritious with life-giving energies.
Alas, the narrative changes here for we have seen how our green revolution in Punjab and Haryana have yielded qualitatively more comfortable standards of lifestyle — but hey, the unhappy flip side is that these states also have a high incidence of skin cancer due to the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers.
The world over enlightened countries are switching over to organic agriculture seriously. We in India are still counting our fortunes at the mercy of who reaps the rewards and who pays the price? All I am saying is that the problems are blowing in the wind and we must very quickly transform our agricultural ways to restore good air, good water and good earth.
For all interdependent elements of life on earth are accountable to creatures big and small – including brainy human creatures who like to pretend they’re a superior species courtesy the mod con joys of science and technology. So much so they are now threatening to destroy this very mother earth who mothers us all, increasingly with impunity (courtesy only one species).

OTHER than that I must tell you it is always a pleasure to go out on any educative trip to the ICAR complex in Old Goa. It has been recovering from the inevitable Covid-19 slumber. But director Dr Praveen Kumar who’s a Haryana-born and bred man has been engaging in taking stock of Goa’s coastal areas and khazan lands and brimming over with ideas on how to make the state come alive with crops which may well be cultivated in Goa. He is aware of how Goan farmers are limited to basically small holdings of land and how they do only one winter season crop for whatever reasons. This can change so that the farmers of Goa may prosper more rewardingly.
They are welcome to cultivate some high-yielding crops like say potatoes, apples, muskmelons, avocados and cauliflowers which are being introduced on a pilot basis as per ICAR guidelines. Dr Parveen Kumar revealed in his media presentation on October 4, 2021, that they are all set to introduce white potato tubers on 400 sq mt plots in Dongurli (Sattari taluka) and Salgini (Sanguem taluka) come the cooler season of November – reportedly, many non-traditional crops may also be grown in Goa with good yields. Goa can reap harvests of potatoes which also have a good demand from those engaged in industrial food production – and Indian potatoes are in demand.
An MoU has already been signed with the Central Potato Research Institute in Himachal Pradesh. This Shimla-based institute will be training Goan farmers on how to grow potatoes in Goa with profitable results. The potato varieties come with evocative names like Kufri Surya, Kufri Kiran, Kufri Bhagwat, Kufri Lima, Kufri Pukhraj.
From the sound of it these potato varieties tolerate some amount of high temperature and will do well in Goa at the sites selected, but only time will tell. It’s not clear if the potato crops will be for local consumption or for corporate food companies’ large needs. Potatoes enjoy a huge demand for turning into French potato fries, chips, chunks, wedges, potato flour – which complement the world’s bestselling junk foods!
Potatoes are also considered poor people’s food in the USA, as Michelle Obama found out to her horror as First Lady in the White House, when her hubby Barack Obama was president. Potatoes have become filler food everywhere in the food industry which contributes towards even children’s obesity. If I may point out here one should really be aware of cheap palmolein-deep fried potatoes selling in a slew of modern eatery chains like Kentucky and McDowell.
The irony is that we so love these thin straw potato fryums which come up in various flavouring nowadays! They are not food, it is con food according to most nutritionists who owe no loyalty to multinationals doing fast food businesses in India (even outright carcinogenic food given the usage of processed vegetable oils of dubious value, hydrogenated fats which are on top of the list of industrial mediums contributing to heart disease amongst other ill health). I don’t have to tell you about such things for I cover it enough in this column, it’s a case of ignorant and lazy eating habits acquired in modern times over what defines the food we eat, industrial foods or the nourishing, life-giving and health-giving food as we knew it once upon a time.
All this is not to say I don’t relish potatoes. Give me organically cultivated potatoes baked in skin and relished with French garlic-laced aioli or even crusty with buttery-herbal flavouring on the odd occasion! I also love the slightly crusty browned potatoes in a Malabari biryani… and who doesn’t enjoy mashed potatoes laced with a cheesy parsley or celery? Ever eaten a German-styled crispy potato rosti? The Parsees are addicted to their “batata par eeda” omlet which my friend Hilla Sethna in Mumbai which was Bombay once upon a time used to make for me…a layer of water sprinkled potato wafers at the bottom of the pan with egg batter poured atop them, with all the frills of chopped tomato, onion, green coriander…yummilicious! Goans love their puri-batat bhaji with the bhaji redolent of fresh green chilli crunch. Alas, most times these batat bhaji are done in vanaspati or mixed fat ghee which ahhhh….is the sweet taste of death in advance.

THIS is to say welcome the ICAR initiatives to inspire farmers in Goa to grow apart from potatoes, also apples, muskmelons (the variety up north has a sweeter flavour), avocados (very expensive fruit but high on the list of super foods), cauliflowers, all on an experimental basis first. Apples can grow in Goa? You will be surprised, they can be grown with one of the senior ICAR researchers, Dr A R Desai, reassuring me they are not encouraging genetically modified or dependent on chemical fertilizers crops nowadays, “We have seeds which are friendly to organic cultivation.” Sooner or later the switch to organic cultivation will happen, so don’t despair. I’m happy at least one ICAR-CCARI scientist took my concerns kindly.
WHICH reminds me to add here some interesting tidbits like all print and electronic media people present for the ICAR presentation were given these long-stemmed exquisite anthuriams (as ornamental as orchids) and treated to refreshments with these two goodies called “nutmeg taffies” and “cashew apple crunchies” – two scrumptious products which I wish were more widely available to the public! A most wholesome fried kingfish lunch followed for those who didn’t run away to their respective offices after the ICAR presentation.
The farming community in Goa should get better acquainted with the work of the ICAR and all the assistance which is there for the giving away. The new director Dr Praveen Kumar says Goan farmers who have several difficulties can increase the diversity of their crops and Goa can be self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit if people take farming seriously. Amongst other things they’re introducing the “flying cocobot” – drones to do the job of coconut plucking, vegetable cultivation in troughs, but this is aimed at urban farming.
Do you know there is something called “multi-stress tolerant crops” and these may be planted in khazan lands? Ah yes, Divar island will soon see sunflowers coming up. There’s a lot more to a farming life than you may imagine, ask any of today’s young farmers in Goa and they’ll tell you how exciting and rewarding their life has become since they connecting with farming in some way!
I DO believe everyone’s best future is in farming our own food at one’s doorstep. If you want to be happy, go do some farming for love or for money! In fact, if I find an assisted living community farming settlement somewhere in Goa, I would happily move there to live with trees, birds, butterflies. A bit of chatting with ICAR’s most helpful public relations man Rahul M Kulkarni revealed that former ICAR director Dr NK Singh had not re-located out of Goa but is still very much here at the ICAR as emeritus scientist.
Dr Singh, I remember, did a lot to make the ICAR campus a popular place with all his programs to make urbanites fall in love with the idea of farming.

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