Kerala: Amid challenges, Uraali Kuruma women on mission to preserve tuber tradition

Despite the challenges, these resilient women are pouring their hearts and souls into preserving their cultural legacy and conserving biodiversity.
Women farmers gather on their field in the tribal hamlet of Irumbupalam in Wayanad
Women farmers gather on their field in the tribal hamlet of Irumbupalam in WayanadPhoto | Express

KALPETTA: A group of four determined women from the Uraali Kuruma tribe — in the hamlet of Irumbupalam in Kattikkulam, Mananthavady — is stirring a silent revolution to safeguard their unique food heritage. Their mission? To revive 180 traditional varieties of tubers that once flourished but have since faded into obscurity amidst the commercial dominance of crops.

Initially, a cohort of ten women embarked on this formidable journey two years ago, but only four remain. The task is arduous, demanding patience and substantial financial support. Despite the challenges, these resilient women are pouring their hearts and souls into preserving their cultural legacy and conserving biodiversity.

For centuries, the Uraali Kuruma tribe has nurtured a diverse range of tubers, each boasting distinctive flavours, textures and nutritional benefits. However, the onslaught of large-scale farming and monoculture practices have marginalised these traditional crops.

Santha Narayanan, 43, Lakshmi Karunakaran, 61, Sarada Ramachandran, 60, and Sarasu Gopi, 40, are spearheading this mission, buoyed by the support of Saranya Sumesh, 31, the brain behind the group cultivation idea. These women founded the “Noorang” movement, securing 75 cents on lease. Their journey transcends mere nostalgia; it embodies resilience and sustainability.

“We are housewives and daily wage workers who have united to cultivate tubers, integral to our culture and diet for generations.Our goal is to diversify local diets, bolster food security and conserve indigenous biodiversity. These tubers thrive in our local climate and soil, offering an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional crops. We take pride in reviving the diet of our ancestors,”” says Saranya.

Their path to success demanded exhaustive research to identify the elusive tubers, drawing insights from senior community members.

“Locating these crops, which thrive only in the forest, required days of relentless effort,” Lakshmi points out.

Their cultivated tubers span a rich array of varieties including narakizhang, noora, thun kachil, sugandha kachil, payasa kachil, makkaleppotti, karinthal, velunthal and karimanjal.

Their endeavours have not escaped local recognition, with neighbouring communities embracing their initiative as a beacon of hope for preserving traditional agricultural practices amidst rapid modernisation. However, they stress the need for support to disseminate their indigenous farm produce to a wider audience.

“While we participate in local fairs and exhibitions to showcase our tubers, we earnestly seek support from like-minded individuals to underscore the significance of preserving our indigenous crops,” Lakshmi says.

Facing adversities, the women of the Uraali Kuruma tribe confront yet another formidable challenge in their quest. Despite the struggles of the first year, compounded by meagre yields post-harvest, the current year presents an even graver predicament exacerbated by extreme weather conditions. Water scarcity looms ominously, depriving the community of its basic needs for drinking and daily sustenance. Adding to the predicament is the voracious demand for water from their crops, worsening the already dire situation.

In light of the prevailing circumstances, the group has made a prudent decision to defer their next cultivation until they receive adequate rain. Traditionally, they plan their new cultivation cycle at the end of May each year. However, recognising the severity of this year’s water scarcity, they acknowledge that adhering to this schedule may not be feasible.

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