Reclaiming food heritage

Farmers in the erstwhile Adilabad district have to grapple with numerous challenges for growing sorghum that is considered a part of their culture and identity. 
Women showcase food items at a tribal food festival organised at Utnoor on Saturday.
Women showcase food items at a tribal food festival organised at Utnoor on Saturday.

HYDERABAD: While sorghum (jowar) is said to be part of the staple diet of the tribal population, farmers in the erstwhile Adilabad district have to grapple with numerous challenges for growing the grain that is considered a part of their culture and identity. 

A research article by International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) states that tribal landscapes in Adilabad district are predominantly rainfed agro-ecosystems with the economy being primarily farm-based. Besides several economic, environmental, social and health-related challenges, smallholder and marginal farmers are also trying to find a balance between producing high-yield crops that meet their requirements and keeping their cultural heritage alive. 

In a bid to bridge the gap between the work of agricultural researchers and tribal farmers, ICRISAT in collaboration with the Centre for Collective Development (CCD), Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) and a local Farmers Producer Organisation (FPO) Praja Mitra Rytu Shakara Samyka initiated the Adilabad Sorghum project in 2017.

Addressing malnutrition
Explaining the process, ICRISAT Senior Scientist Jana Kholova states that a survey was first conducted to identify the need for such a project. For the farmers, taste and straw quality for cattle were identified to be the main factors for choosing a variety of sorghum. 

“These tribal regions have been identified as malnutrition is highly prevalent in these areas, especially among children and women,” she adds. 

While feeding initiatives in Anganwadis showed improvement, suitable cultivars (variety) of sorghum, which is often hailed as nature’s answer to malnutrition, weren’t available to farmers, she says. With this project, farmers can return to their traditional food source while also helping eliminate hunger and financially support tribal families, she adds. 

Huge participation
As many as 200 farmers from 20 villages in the district have taken part in the initiative. Seddam Nagar Rao, a farmer from Chintakarra, tells TNIE that he has been participating in the initiative for three years. “We are satisfied with the yield as these varieties are rich, both in taste and nutrients. We are also using it in the straw for the cattle because it is a good source of energy. Currently, we are cultivating these varieties organically and selling them at Rs 45 per kg,” he adds.

Another farmer Dondhi Rao shares, “Earlier, I underwent training in seed development from CCD during which I learned to cultivate more jowar but with less water. I have even supplied the seeds to 15 other farmers and encouraged them to get into seed production. Scientists have visited our fields a few times and guided us on the best practices for growing these varieties.” 

“The current project has proven that new research approaches that empower farmers to make their own choices and where they directly participate in the selection of the sorghum variety boost the adoption of these varieties tremendously,” said Marijn Voorhaar, a research scholar working on the project. With the success of the current project, ICRISAT and its partners plan to use these novel methods to accelerate the adoption of many more crop cultivars and novel technologies to the farming communities in India, she adds.

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