BENGALURU: The lower Himalayas
The tribal areas in the Tehri-Garhwal region of Uttarakhand practise traditional agriculture. The hallmark of this region is the millet and bean diversity grown on terraced hills. Wheat, rice, barley, maize, and some sugarcane is also cultivated; while tubers, gourds, cucumbers and greens are grown around homes, farm huts and cow sheds. Women rear goats as a traditional asset accruement practice. Alcoholic Paatli and ghani surs made from barley and mountain herbs, served at celebrations, doubles as a home remedy for common ailments. The state has been acknowledged as Default Organic.
The arid regions of the Deccan
An outstanding example in the Deccan are the (mostly Dalit) women farmers of Zaheerabad, in Telangana’s Medak district who adopted rain-fed ecological-bio-diverse farming practices over two decades ago. Their colourful annual food biodiversity festival coincides with the harvest festival of Sankranti. Moving from village to village bullock cart caravans loaded with varieties of millets, pulses, lentils, oil seeds display the abundance and diversity of the region. More importantly, it reinforces the dramatic reversal of life conditions for the marginalised women of this region who also run their own Community Radio, a millet restaurant and a Public Distribution System. The area is notified as food bio-diversity heritage site.
The Deciduous jungles of Bastar
Kondagoan district of Bastar in Chattisgarh is home to Gonds, Marias, Halabas. Being largely delinked from a monetised economy, their nutritional needs are met by foraging, hunting, fishing, farming and animal rearing. In kitchen gardens grow pumpkins, gourds, tubers, bananas, wild lemons, varieties of beans, roselle (gongura/ambadi) etc. Stationary and shifting cultivation yield paddy, millets, black gram and horse gram. Their diet gets a nutritional boost from mushroom, tender bamboo shoot, seasonal wild berries and fruits, honey, leafy jungle greens, tamarind, lotus seed and root, insects, ants and grubs, fish, crabs, shrimp, cockles and molluscs. Hunting brings home jungle birds and fowl, frogs, field mice, snake, hares, small mammals, hogs etc. Hens, pigs, goats, cattle (for dung) are reared.
The Vidharba in Central India
A few villages around Wardha-Sevagram are presently the epicentre of a quiet revolution in nutritional self reliance and self sufficiency. Dr. Priti Joshi, its driving force, decided to tackle the high incidence of anaemia in economically disadvantaged women by simply including plenty of home grown greens in their daily diet by teaching them to grow vegetables followed by teaching to cook nutritionally healthful meals. Vaishali Pokale, a local organic farmer, joined her in this mission. Within a few growing seasons’ haemoglobin levels in women showed stabilisation. Women without kitchen gardens too benefitted as gardeners were freely sharing the surplus with their neighbours, relatives, friends and farm hands. Many who tasted success took the initiative to increase the gardening area by reclaiming unused land around their homes; planted fruit trees; raised nurseries for free distribution of saplings, used horizontal spaces: pandals, railings, roofs and terraces innovatively to grow gourds, pumpkins, herbs and vines.
Doctors of local Public Health Centres have reported that there are no cases of anaemia amongst pregnant women in the villages with kitchen gardens.
The Malnad region in the Western Ghats
In Sirsi, Karnataka, the women’s collective Vanastree has made edible food gardens a fine art. Many have evolved from home makers to gardeners to entrepreneurs to ardent advocates of edible home-yard gardens. Their seed bank is much sought after by gardening enthusiasts in the Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, as are their many processed food products. The Malnad Mela, an annual event held in Sirsi and Bengaluru, is often extended on public demand. Their product list boasts of close to two hundred items, including such varied ones as dehydrated bananas, natural holi colours, herbal mosquito repellents, creams, balms, and variety of mouth watering snacks.
Trends and Recent Enrolments
There are thousands of such steps being taken, as an organic farming promoter observed in a recent gathering at Dehradun, “It is true that more and more farmers are turning their backs to farming, but it is also true that the younger generation are adopting safe food growing practices, and nutritionally appropriate dietary habits.”
More and more people seem happy to ‘muck around’ in edible home scale gardens and organic farms, this time empowered with innovations, creativity, technology and the new found knowledge of the benefits of growing and consuming safe foods.
(This article has been written under the aegis of CSE Media Fellowship, 2015)