There was a time when the road passing through Caurem would be lined with freshly plucked chillies, laid out on sheets by the side to dry in the sun. Later, they would be sold in small roadside shops or packed off in tempo vans to the nearest town market in Quepem, South Goa. And then there was mining.
This road through Caurem also leads to half a dozen iron ore mines. The story of mining in Goa, its rise through the 2000s to peak production in 2008-11, the ban on mining in 2012, and the slow resumption since the ban was lifted in 2014, mirrors the rise, fall and eventual rise of these chillies, which are native to the foothills of Western Ghats.
And now, as mining picks up again, will the Caurem chilly survive? Caurem is settled in an undulating landscape. There are step fields nearer to the road. Away from the road, the land starts climbing steeply, as thick forests of the Western Ghats take over. The chillies come in two varieties – the milder one grown in fields, while the hotter version is grown in the forests of the ghats.
The hotter variety is called Dongri Mirchi or the chilly of the mountain, and is sown in the monsoons in clearings in the forest.
The field chilly, on the other hand, is a winter crop, sown after the monsoon paddy is harvested. Seeds are first sown in small nurseries by the side of the fields, where they grow into 2-inch saplings. Afterwards, they are transplated to the fields after the paddy stubble has been cleared out. Chilly planted in January is harvested around May.
For the farmers here, who are in the process of clearing the stubble and tending to the nurseries, history is sharply split by the 2006-2008 period, when mining picked up in the area.
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