India is a celebration of unity in diversity, whether one looks at its topography that ranges from the snow-clad Himalayas or the coastal regions kissed by the Arabian Sea or Bay of Bengal; from the deserts of Thar to the wetlands of the Sunderbans; or its people of Aryan, Dravidian, Mongol and African descent or its vegetation like the trees, shrubs, herbs, vines, creepers, grasses and aquatic or epiphytic plants – it is as diverse as can be, with native, naturalised and recent exotic species all growing cheek-by-jowl in almost every region. From the pines of the Tundra region to coffee and cashew from Latin America, from Australian acacias to Indo-Myanmar mangoes and Chinese tea or African cowpea and finger millet or ragi, we have all these plants growing in India as if they have always been here. In an era when every village is setting up its own Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC), the SFX School, Siolim, decided to empower the students of schools across Goa with an interest in biodiversity of plants in their own locality.
We are fortunate to have a well-researched book entitled ‘Mangoes of Goan Origin’ put together by PA Mathew, no matter how the credits roll on the publication. Not everyone is familiar with its contents and so the 28th Festival of Plants and Flowers encourages students of higher secondary schools to dwell on the subject. The high school students will get their hands into the soil to actually grow plants in self-irrigating pots (SIP) that they will fashion out of used PET bottles that are otherwise dumped on the garbage heaps all over the state. A demonstration was held in July at the SFX School, Siolim, that was attended by two students and a teacher or parent from twenty-two schools. A young graduate in agriculture interning with the Botanical Society of Goa, Priyanka Parab conducted the demonstrations of the techniques in another twenty schools, from Pernem to Salcete and Bardez to Ponda talukas since June. She has become a familiar face at the Government College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Khandola-Marcela, where she is a faculty again this week to attract youth to agriculture in a NABARD-funded ten-day training course. She has also demonstrated it to adults at Thana-Sattari, Socorro-Bardez and at Malar-Divar in Tiwadi taluka.
Grafting, budding and air-layering (marcotage) or ground layering helps to retain a variety’s characteristics. Not everyone can do a four-year course of BSc (agriculture) and there are few opportunities outside the formal learning institutions. Under the aegis of the Botanical Society of Goa, Priyanka has been able to take these skills to hundreds of students and adults. Together with the gardening skills that have earned her a slot in a TV series, these skills will help people, both young and old, to help preserve plants that they like and thus help conserve biodiversity without even thinking about it. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ is the term that the former chief of army staff, general (retd) Sunith Francis Rodrigues used to call it. Self-interest that produces a social good cannot be a bad thing at all.