Panaji: The wonder tree that produced India's second biggest cashew nut, locally called the "botto", has disappeared from its hillside location in Carambolim some time back, even as the cashew industry raises doubts about the future of the centuries-old Portuguese-gifted crop.
The 10-gram cashew nut, which the tree produces, along with its luscious yellow apple (Goa's biggest), and two other varieties of nuts from Ganjem in Ponda, and Quepem, were recently released commercially by the Indian council of agricultural research (ICAR), Old Goa.
The tree stood in a cashew farm in north east Carambolim, but the site has since been stripped off trees and plots have been demarcated for a housing project.
"The mother tree producing the jumbo-sized cashew nut has disappeared from the site," an ICAR scientist said.
But, the good news is that the germ plasm of the Carambolim "botto" tree has been conserved for posterity.
After 13 years of laboratory trials on grafts produced from the same tree ICAR reproduced the tree variety which produces nuts that fit the international premium grade in cashew nuts. This can help farmers produce quality nuts for processing and tapping market demand.
"Conservation of the local germ plasm is very important to protect biodiversity of Goa and Western Ghats, which is a biodiversity hotspot. ICAR has prepared grafts of this tree and preserved it at a gene bank in our Old Goa farm," director, ICAR Eknath Chakurkar said.
Captains of the cashew industry are aware about the cumulative threat of rapid development and urbanization in Goa. "The cashew plantation area is fast depleting due to requirement of housing and urbanisation. Moreover, stem borer disease and other factors also affect the crop," president, Goa cashew processors association (GCPA), Madhav Sahakari said.
A sizeable 40% of the cashew plantation area is owned by the forest department. "The department only hands harvesting rights every season, but needs to increase the crop with high yielding varieties and better farming methods," adviser, GCPA, A Kamath said.
While stakeholders are apprehensive about the dwindling production, they suggest identification of new areas to increase crop area. "The government should set up a special area for cashew development and involve stakeholders to boost this crop that sustains the economy with just a few months of activity," Kamath said.