Goa looks to cashew to green mining pits

Panaji, Nov 14 (IANS) Cashew, which is distilled to make popular Goan drink feni, also has the power to revitalise the state's pits left barren by excessive mining, say agriculturists and scientists.

N.P. Singh, director of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) here, said in case mining, now banned by the Supreme Court, is phased out over the next few years, the pits can be replenished with cashew plantations provided the soil treatment processes are in place.

"We have identified 67 species of cashew in Goa. We have to go for soil fertility management. Within five years we can do it," Singh told IANS in an interview, adding that poultry-based manure would be perfect for recharging mining pits in case the ban results in the abandonment of some pits.

There are over 100 legally operational mines in Goa, which function in leased forested areas. Open cast iron ore mining leaves scars on the surface of the soil in the form of deep pits, from which ore is extracted.

Mining in all these pits has currently been stopped. But the effects are now spilling over to subsidiary industries and trades related to mining.

Truckers, barge owners and others who gave up their farm and horticultural land for mining-related work are in a fix.

Cashew can be a saver, say scientists.

The fruit was brought to Goa by the Portuguese colonists from Africa and it was wholeheartedly embraced by Goans for its double distilled brew, feni.

"Reviving mining areas is possible. We have done a project on mining reject soils. Cashew and bamboo plantations are perfect for such areas," A. Desai of ICAR told IANS.

ICAR officials also believe that the cash crop of cashew could help people make a living in case the ban makes survival difficult in the short term.

"Cashew seedlings with lateral and sinker (vertical) roots are ideal soil binders in sandy soils as well as loose soil in mining dumps. Many mining companies used cashew seedlings till the Australian acacia (Acacia auriculiformis) became a quick fix like two-minute noodles because of its small seeds (cost saving) and high survival rate in adverse conditions as it is a xerophyte (a desert plant)," horticulturist Miguel Braganza told IANS.

The flipside however was that the acacia was aggressive and makes it difficult for other plants to co-habit in the same area, he said.

Cashew, Braganza said, had a history of being used to replenish mining areas in Africa.

"Earlier, they did the same in Angola's copper mines. Cashew originated in Brazil, another Portuguese colony of those days," he said.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

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