Category Archives: Tribal people

Tribals Are Mankind’s Living Vault

CHS’ co-founder, Winin Pereira, would have been deeply interested in this account by Devinder Sharma, written after accepting an invitation to addressing thousands of tribal people at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Tribal Conclave:

This tribal region was earlier called “Bhooki”, a clearcut reflection of the extent of hunger that prevailed. I am told Acharya Vinoba Bhave had travelled through the region, and was instrumental in getting land transferred into the hands of quite a significant proportion the landless tribals.

I could see the transformation that has come about several decades later when I decided to visit some tribal families in Anandpuri block of Banswara district in southern Rajasthan. Along with the neighbouring districts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, Banswara is part of a predominant tribal triangle in central India.

I wanted to meet small and marginal farmers of the region. My first visit was to meet Shankar, 55, in village Bodiya Talau, some 58 kms from Banswara. He owns 2.15 acres of land, has three cows, 2 bulls and 1 goat. All animals are the desi breed. The cows hardly give 500 grams of milk per day. When asked why is he keeping them, his reply was that the cows are not kept for milk but for manure. He cultivates maize, tur, paddy, tomato, wheat, chilli, turmeric and remarked:

“I grow everything at home, except for salt and sugar.”

He was satisfied with what he was doing after having transformed his almost barren land into a green patch. Has planted a number of trees, including cashew. Shankar is certainly more enterprising than his fellow tribals. I then met Chetan Pargi, aged 35, from Ummed Pura village. He is into rope weaving besides doing farming in 4 bigha land.

He said he was able to make a decent living, and his land provided enough for his family throughout the year. I didn’t believe him looking at his frail health.

But he insisted that his land gave him enough. But is that enough, enough? That’s the question. But their undying spirit of hospitality is what amazes me. At a time when the people in cities have turned selfish and are not willing to offer even a cup of tea to visitors, Chetan Pargi, despite his visible level of subsistence, wanted me to have food with him. When I politely declined, he said: “bare Saheb log kahan hamare jaise logo ke haath ka khana khate hain’ (Why would the sahebs like to eat with us). I had to tell him that as per the schedule, I was already eating with another farmer in the next village.

Meeting Mani Lal in the same village confirmed how severely undernourished these tribals are. Reverting to farming, I was impressed the way he was trying to get into composting, amrit pani and understood why he wanted to keep chemical pesticides away.

“Sir, yeh to jehar hai (Sir, this is simply a poison) he told me.

What comes as a shock is to know how some of them are being deprived of their ration quota just because they have not completed constructing toilets in their houses.

Among various things that I learnt from them, I found Mani Lal’s wife Babli Bai’s effort to preserve the seeds of cucumber and lemon by gluing them on the Sagwan leaves and hanging the dry leaves to be an interesting way to keep seeds.

There were several other traditional ways that farmers were adopting which I found it worth documenting, and learning from.

All this became possible when I accepted the invitation to addressing thousands of Tribals at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Janjati Krishi Swaraj Sammelan (Tribal Conclave). As I said earlier, these tribals came from the tribal belt in the triangle of a region formed between Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Organised by the Banswara-based NGO, Vaagdhara, I must acknowledge that it was an amazing experience to speak before such a large audience of tribals, something close to 7,000 and 8,000. They came dressed in all colours, and in all their glory.

In my talk I urged them not to let go of their farming techniques and practices. They alone hold the future as far saving sustainable farming practices are concerned.

The farming practices they preserve hold the key to save the world from climate change. I sought their cooperation in protecting their agriculture from getting polluted and environmentally devastated. Three things they must do:

  1. Stop using chemical pesticides.
  2. Phase out the application of chemical fertilisers.
  3. Conserve and protect desi cattle breeds/seeds.

They took a pledge to follow the directions.

It will certainly be a grave tragedy if the Government tries to introduce modern farming techniques in these villages, and thereby destroy the synergy that tribal agriculture preserves.

Linking nature, environment and religion, the tribals have preserved what is truly a sustainable farming system for centuries.

It is high time, a separate plan is prepared for the tribal regions, wherein the effort should be to not only conserve but also improve upon their traditional practices, ensuring that tribals are paid a premium for monumental role they have played in preserving and conserving the natural resources.

This is a small price the society needs to incur for what could be the saviour of the mankind’s future. With global warming already pushing the world to a tripping point, these tribal regions may turn out to be society’s last refuge. Like the Doomsday vault in the Arctic, where the effort is to preserve crop seeds for posterity, this is a Living Vault that mankind needs to protect for its own future. # 

 

Posted by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality

 

 

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The forgotten foods: 1,582 food species displayed at an Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village (Rayagada district, Orissa)

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Devinder Sharma draws attention to a report that fewer crop species are feeding the world than 50 years ago – raising concerns about the resilience of the global food system, as a study in the journal PNAS has shown.

The authors warned a loss of diversity meant more people were dependent on key crops, leaving them more exposed to harvest failures. Higher consumption of energy-dense crops could also contribute to a global rise in heart disease and diabetes, they added. “Over the past 50 years, we are seeing that diets around the world are changing and they are becoming more similar – what we call the ‘globalised diet’,” co-author Colin Khoury, a scientist from the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said.” The diet is composed of big, major crops such as wheat, rice, potatoes and sugar. It also includes crops that were not important 50 years ago but have become very important now, particularly oil crops like soybean,” BBC News reported in Crop diversity decline ‘threatens food security’

Devinder writes:

Well, this report is among the several others which have highlighted the threat food security as well as nutrition security faces from the ‘globalised diet’.

We are all responsible directly or indirectly for this decline. If I were to ask you to count the foods that you eat I bet you will not be able to name more than a few. Wheat, rice, tomato, cucumber, apple, banana … and you begin to reel out the names you know. Not many can name even twenty. Try a little harder, and you will end up probably with another ten. If you are a little more aware, you might struggle with a few more names. That’s it.

That’s how narrow and limited our food sense has come down to. The more we are urbanized, the chances are the less we know about our foods and the rich food culture that prevailed in our country. The disconnect with the huge diversity of food over the ages has actually alienated the modern civilization from the virtues of the vast repository of biological wealth that existed. Modern living has snapped the symbiotic relationship that existed with nature.

Not many know that India is a mega-diversity region with over 51,000 plant species existing, but with hardly a handful being cultivated.

When Laxmi Pidikaka, a tribal woman from southern Odisha explained to me the importance and relevance of each of the 1,582 food species that were displayed at the recently concluded Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village in Rayagada district, I was left not only amazed with the richness of food around us, but came back with a feeling that how uneducated I was when it came to mankind’s basic requirement of food. Of the 1,582 food species (and that included different kinds of fish, crabs and birds that are part of the daily diet of some tribals), as many as 972 were uncultivated. Yes, you heard it right. Uncultivated foods.

DS: “couldn’t resist licking my fingers after tasting a millet-based cooked food displayed at the Adivasi Food Festival, Bissamcuttak, Odisha, Feb 25, 2014”.

A dozen tribes living in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra had gathered at the Adivasi Food Festival to celebrate their foods, which is basically an appreciation of the traditional food cultures linked to their age-old farming practices providing them nutritional security while protecting and conserving the nature’s bounty. Members from the Kondh, Koya, Didai, Santhal, Juanga, Baiga, Bhil, Pahari Korva, Paudi Bhuiyan and Birhor from more than 300 villages spread across the tribal heartland came to showcase their foods, and also spent the next day discussing how to protect the traditional farming system from the onslaught of the National Food Security Act that aimed at providing them with 5 kg of wheat, rice or millets.

“We don’t need your food security system,” Minati Tuika of Katlipadar village told me. “The more you open ration shops in our villages, the more you force us to abandon our own food security system built by our forefathers so painstakingly over the centuries. Please leave us alone.”

But why was she so angry with what most policy makers and planners see as development? Don’t most educated elite think that tribals are uneducated and uncivilized, and therefore all out efforts must be made to bring them into the mainline?

“Don’t teach us what development is. We conserved and preserved our plants, our soil, our forests, and our rivers over the centuries. Now you want to take these away, and destroy them. And then you call it development.”

Saying this, she hid her face. When I coaxed her to explain to me how the adivasis were living in tandem with the nature, and how the modern system was distancing them from their traditional cultures and the community control over resources, she agreed to first show me some plants that had multiple uses demonstrating the traditional skills of the community which preserved and used them without pushing them into the extinct category.

She showed me the Siali beans. Quite a big sized dry bean whose seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting, the branches are used to make ropes, and the leaves are used to make leaf plates. Kusum Koli leaves are used for fodder, fruits are eaten raw, wood is used as firewood, and oil is extracted from the seeds. The seed oil serves as a mosquito repellent and also treats certain skin diseases. Even the better known Mahua trees (above) have multiple uses. Leaves are used for fodder, flowers are used to make jaggery, liquor and porridge. Flowers are also consumed and often sold in the market, a kind of a curry is made from the fruits besides being used as fodder, and the seed provides cooking oil after extraction. All these are unfortunately classified as uncultivated plants in agricultural parlance, and therefore do not receive any attention.

Debjeet Sarangi of Living Farms, which organized the Adivasi Food festival, says it is aimed at deepening the communitarian ethos of the adivasi society and the shared knowledge systems. The event will highlight their sustainable way of growing food and its relationship with their ecology – land, plants, animals and forests. 

When I asked him whether this exercise didn’t aim at romanticizing the foregone, his response was curt: “That’s where we fault. These people are in complete harmony with their nature. Instead of brushing them as uncivilized, we have to learn from them. Whether we like it or not, the future of the humanity is hidden in these tribal cultures.”

I decided to take a walk to see the range of cooked foods displayed. At the entrance to the event itself participants were served a nutritious welcome drink. Made from ragi millet (right) with a sprinkling of rice grains, the drink was certainly very tasty. Called Mandia jau in the local language, it is actually a ragi gruel. Says Salome Yesudas, a nutritionist from Chennai, “I don’t know why people need to drink colas and other kinds of sodas when you have such healthy drinks available.” Considering that the sale of colas has been on a decline, it will be certainly helpful if someone was to promote Mandia jau. The next time you visit my house, be prepared to taste this exotic drink.

I was at first a little apprehensive at tasting the cooked food displayed. More so, considering that I am a diabetic. But when Salome Yesudas explained to me how most of these food dishes were based on different kinds of millets which are the preferred food for people suffering from lifestyle diseases, I couldn’t control dipping my fingers. Pancakes were made from finger millet (left), foxtail millet, with a little jaggery; cakes from ragi and sesame, and then there were cooked dishes using sorghum, pearl millet, kodo millet, barnyard millet, red rice and with sprinklings of uncultivated fruits and seeds.

Living Farms is now documenting the food recipes and has prepared a nutrition chart detailing the nutrition composition of uncultivated plants. They have also printed posters in English and Oriya on the vast varieties of foods available for a balanced diet, as well as for the summer and winter seasons.

Although the Adivasi Food Festival at Munda was not the first traditional festivals of food that I had visited but what makes me feel encouraged is the efforts being made by some civil society groups to bring back the lost traditions, including the culinary habits.

It also clearly demonstrates that what India needs is not a centralized food security system but a multi-layered decentralized food security system based on the traditional practices in that particular region. Instead of providing the tribal populations with a monthly entitlement of 5 kg of wheat/rice/millets, the focus should be on strengthening the existing food system.

This is only possible if we are able to inculcate a feeling of pride in our traditional systems. The richness of our food culture, which is so intricately linked to the preservation of natural resources, is where it can all begin. I don’t know why our agricultural universities don’t talk about it; I don’t know why our food magazines and food shows never focus on the traditional foods; and I am certainly not surprised why our Planning Commission has no idea as to what the tribal cultures imbibe.

An abridged version of this article appeared in Tehelka, Mar 7, 2014. Issue 11 Vol 11
The Culture of Eating Right

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One of the comments:

Shubhangi Sinha

Absolutely an eye opener!  I am an agriculture graduate and working in Crop Protection industry all the work concerns only 10-12 major crops across India. Rice/Wheat/Maize being the most important ones .. Even fruits and vegetables that are cultivated predominantly are limited. We need to explore our rich food culture and adopt them, also since majority of population is suffering from Lifestyle diseases. Good write up!

 

 

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Araku coffee

The Financial Times reported this week that subsistence coffee farmers in the Araku region of Andhra Pradesh set up The Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually-Aided Co-operative Society in 2006 to process the coffee grown through the Naandi Foundation, a Hyderabad-based philanthropic organisation, which gave technical support with cultivation and marketed the farmers’ produce overseas.

Their coffee is grown bio-dynamically, requiring no costly fertilisers or agrochemicals; farmers enrich the soil through mulching, using leaves, fallen fruits and other freely available organic matter. They use inexpensive, herbal soil additives to enhance soil fertility and fight pests. It is produced using techniques similar to those in wine making and the variants which draw their flavours from the soil in which they are grown enjoy a guaranteed price as ‘speciality’ coffee.

Tribal people in the Araku region – Bagathas, Valmikis, Kondus and Poorjas – traditionally relied largely on collecting forest produce. The government has created a special developmental and funding plan for locals. The Times of India explains that in such ‘agency areas’, tribal people can use as much government land as much as they can till.

Amy Kazmin (FT) writes: “Ten years ago, the residents of Kabada Boddaput — in southeastern India’s remote Araku valley — were impoverished subsistence farmers, living in mud huts and eating the millet, yams, pumpkin and greens they grew on their one- to five-acre plots. Cash was scarce and emergencies meant borrowing from friends and family — debts that might take years to repay. ‘It was a very terrible situation,’ recalls Sanyasi Gullela, a farmer. ‘There were not enough clothes and no money for cattle.’ “ Daily life has improved, with the increase in income used to improve homes, buy more clothes and nutritious food.

The Times of India reports that four prominent businessman have taken up the cause of  marketing Araku coffee and this is now being profitably sold as a “speciality” coffee to ‘select’ roasters and traders from Japan, Korea, and Europe. These ‘high-end’ buyers — who taste and rate each lot before purchasing — are willing to pay up to Rs700 per kg for the best of the beans.

It is economic heresy to wish that most of the coffee could be enjoyed in the huge number of coffee houses in India – including 400 outlets of The Indian Coffee House,chain run by worker co-operative societies – and only the surplus exported.

 

 

 

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The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 1

Noting the number of visitors to the website who read Devinder Sharma’s account of a visit to the Kadar tribe in Kerala prompted a re-reading of some books and papers written by Winin Pereira, co-founder of the Centre for Holistic Studies in Bandra, Bombay.

Winin Pereira

In 1996 he recorded memories of his first stay near tribal people (adivasis) in Alonde. Over time he grew to realise the extent of their knowledge of plants, trees and farming.

He drew on this and other experiences of traditional sustainable agriculture in India collected and analysed over 25 years to write ‘Tending the Earth’.

Over time he had noticed that the Warlis’ agricultural land was in better condition than that of farmers who had practised ‘Green Revolution’-style agriculture from the 60s, using chemical pesticides and fertilizers which, over time degraded the soil.

One of Winin Pereira’s colleagues wrote about the contemporary practice of barter and included incidental information about Warli tribals, with whom he also had spent time. He wrote that they are thought to be descended from the original inhabitants of Thane in the Western Bombay suburbs. Their lands have been ‘developed’ and some now have a hard but healthier life in the Borivli National Park (below) while the tribal communities who still have some land live on the margins in the polluted Bombay suburbs.

The writer saw a hut like the one above which had the faint outlines of the traditional painting (below) on the walls carried out for celebrations and ceremonial occasions but in the 1970s. Government of India officials who were sent to document Warli art, were amazed by the drawings of Jivya Soma Mashe from Dahanu, who shows an immense understanding of the Warli culture.

A description of their content is quoted in Wikipedia: “Their drawings revolve around the traditions of their communities, the tools they use and their association with nature. Themes include community dances, the harvest as well as fields swaying with healthy crops, birds flying in the sky, group dancing around a person playing the music, dancing peacocks, women cooking or busy in their other house chores and children playing”.

The Warli forest community survives by gathering minor forest produce and selling firewood to the encroachers in the plains, then earning Rs25 for every pile of firewood they sell. Once every three months they enter into barter trade with the fishing community living 5-6kms away along the sea coast. The Warlis start with the piles on their heads at 3 am and manage to cover the distance by foot in 3 to 4 hours time. In return for every pile of wood that they sell they receive dry fish worth at least Rs75 to Rs100 in the local market from the fishing community. The benefit to both is two or three times what they would get in a monetary transaction. Exchange of dry fish for firewood takes place in the Western suburbs from Malad right into Thane district.

Dahanu taluka, 136 km from Mumbai by road, has a 66% Warli tribal population who own 33% of the agricultural land in Dahanu. When their rice growing season ends, the Warlis find employment on the chicoo farms. Two colleagues who have lived there wrote:

“We have so much to learn from the Warlis who take so little from the earth. They are the true environmentalists without even realising it”.

“We are all fighting to protect what we and Winin Pereira love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he shares will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis, ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but be emulated”.

Part 2 follows.

 

 

 

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The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 2

In ‘Celebrating People’s Knowledge, Winin Pereira and co-author Subhash Sule, quote Gandhi’s words: “Every man must be his own scientist and every village a science academy” Anyone has the right – and everyone needs to exercise the right – to be a “scientist” or “technologist”, to question the origin of phenomena, to develop new theories and technologies or to modify old ones”.

Synthetic fertilisers

In the rice paddies

Warli farmers tried out synthetic fertilisers but soon abandoned them They said that the fertilisers damaged the soil and that larger amounts were required each year. In consequence, they use very little, and then not every year.

Careful use of material resources 

Adivasis see no value in the possession of an increasing quantity of material products or in a lifestyle that stresses comfort even at the cost of the environment and justice. Those possessing more wealth than others are expected to distribute their excess among the rest of their community.The awareness of their interdependence on other forms of life makes their approach to solutions eco-friendly; resources are used with restraint, pollution is minimised. Basically this is an acknowledgement of their awareness of the need to be frugal and sparing in their use of materials and resources which are necessary for their survival. 

Traditional technologies

The development of traditional technologies is limited to those which do not produce unemployment or pollute the environment. There is no unnecessary processing of raw materials; the minimum quantity is used and in processing there is no waste, or if there are remnants unused for the basic need, they are used for other essential purposes. A few of the examples given:

  • Wood resistant to termites, such as teak, is used for house construction, thus eliminating the need to use dangerous pesticides.
  • Timber resistant to the attacks of teredos (shipworms) is used for constructing boats, avoiding the need for coating the wood with highly poisonous chemicals like tributyltin, with the boat also having a longer life.
  • The use of banana leaves as dinner plates, making washing up unnecessary and the ‘plates’ themselves serving as food for cows, which in turn produce milk.
  • Where banana plants do not grow, plates made of dry leaves of several other trees [ banyan or breadfruit] or even wooden cups and plates have been used.

Medicinal research 

These isolated groups use a range of plants for medicinal and other purposes, having done a lot of research over time. Over 9500 wild plant species have been recorded as used by bhagats (right) and other tribals for various requirements, of which over 7500 are used for medicinal purposes. In the case of herbal medicines, cures will only be researched for the specific diseases which occur in the traditional scientist’s habitat. S/he cannot test out herbs without patients who need treatment. The scientist is most likely to use the plants growing locally. Only if these fail will s/he look further afield. This could explain the different species used even by neighbouring communities for the same disease.

Information about medicine used by Gujarati tribes living in the Satlasana forests is recorded here: https://www.rroij.com/open-access/folk-herbal-medicines-used-by-the-tribalsinsatlasana-forest-area-mehsana-district-gujarat-india.php?aid=33919

Most of the activity in this study was carried out by adivasis who conduct research while carrying on their normal occupations, in their fields and homes, mainly using locally available resources. The researchers do not require formal recognition for their work and are happy to see the use of their shared inventions without expectations of any rewards for their efforts. The free dissemination of knowledge is an essential characteristic of the traditional system.

 

 

 

Forest management policies over the last thirty years

Last year the Indian environment’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ministry published a “draft national forest policy 2016” on its website, with a call for comments. News of the misguided proposals to relocate/evict human beings from “wildlife rich areas” was published on this website.

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In January there was a summary of Devinder Sharma’s account of his recent journey to the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats who depend on forest resources for their sustenance. As he wrote: “Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon”. He explained:

“Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them”.

80s – 90s: Joint Forest Management  

A draft forest bill for draconian controls on access was abandoned in 1982, following mass Chipko demonstrations. The 1988 National Forest Policy adopted conservation measures and focussed on meeting local needs. The success of pilot schemes in West Bengal and Gujarat in improving the quality and area under forest was shown in remote sensing satellite data (Sarin 1995). A government order of 1990, which provided for the formation of Village Forest Committees (VFCs) to protect forests said: “Access to forest land and usufruct benefits should be extended only to the beneficiaries who get organised into a village institution, specifically for forest regeneration and protection.”

Initially, 15 state governments issued resolutions assuring participating villages free access to most non-timber forest products (NFTPs) and a share in the profit from poles and timber, when harvested, in return for forest protection (as specified by the forest department). It is said that after initial successes in West Bengal and Haryana, as of 2005, 27 states of the Indian Union had various JFM schemes with over 63,000 FPCs involved in the joint management of over 140,000 km² of forested land. (The link: Resource Unit for Participatory Forestry (RUPFOR) – Joint Forest Management – About JFM unfortunately led to a website on a different subject.

In the 90s TV producer Fiona Charlton-Hill published her dissertation for the School of Oriental and African Studies on JOINT FOREST MANAGEMENT IN INDIA – A KARNATAKA CASE STUDY, SEPT.15TH 1996). Some findings:

  • The increased height of trees had resulted in new leaves growing beyond easy reach and affected the production of Sal leaf plates.
  • Leaves from Tendu bushes, used in the production of bidis, had been shaded too much by the denser tree growth.
  • Quarrels between villagers and the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) over the grazing of animals on forest land –  92 cattle used for draught power –  were the major impetus behind the institution of Joint Forest Policy Management (JFPM).
  • It was decided that women were to be responsible for collecting firewood and fodder leaves.
  • Microplanning included demands for smokeless chulas, safe drinking water, a gobar gas plant, bamboo for fencing, seedlings of a plant which produces a large quantity of green leaves, for 21 other species of plants and profit sharing.
  • Previously acacia had been cut by Alga Ulga and Sathgeri villagers for firewood and fencing. The guard posted had not prevented this. KFD now pays a watchman and the committee – in groups of five – now watches the forest and the watchman.
  • The most successful JFPM was in Sathgeri.

Villagers enabled to speak directly to Whitehall by video 

w-ghats-sirsiPandurang Hegde, a local Karnataka activist and Chipko/Appiko Andolan veteran, came to CHS in Mumbai with written statements, asking for help. A letter giving an account of various corrupt practices was sent to the [British] director in New Delhi, who did not reply. Then the ODA in UK was contacted and this director sent a furious letter to CHS colleagues for ‘going over his head’.

As letters of complaint and reports were being ignored by the UK government’s Overseas Development Agency (ODA) representative in Delhi, The Ecologist contacted CHS and paid for a video with a subtitled translation. Shot on location in the Western Ghats, it presented villagers’ evidence about the problems arising from the Joint Forest Management (JFM) projects heavily funded by the UK Overseas Development Agency. The video was taken to UK by Pandurang Hegde where CHS’ Jeremy Seabrook and Nicholas Hildyard of the Ecologist arranged and chaired gatherings at which the video was shown and Pandurang. The ODA (now DFID) officials agreed to a meeting at their London office, and, after seeing the video, agreed that an enquiry should be held.

Is Community Forest Management a better answer?

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NDTV reports that in Gunduribadi, a tribal village, the women of the village took charge of guarding forests in 2000 after the male members failed to do so. “If the men objected to the illegal cutting of woods, they would get beaten up. But, we were not harmed. So, we took over forest patrolling from them,” says Ramma. This movement was successful: the ‘Sata Bhai’ or the ‘Seven Brothers’ hill which was barren until a few years ago is alive once again.

 In 2013 Ashish Kothari wrote about his visit to the Baigas of Madhya Pradesh who were campaigning to regain their traditional rights of access, to restore the diversity of their forests and to protect national wealth.

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Birju Singh Bindhia explained: “Not so long ago, we had a much greater variety of plants in this forest. Then the Forest Department came along with its working plan involving coupe felling, which included getting rid of crucial species like mahulikayafal, lianas and others that interfered with the felling. They also deliberately encouraged only sal so that over the years other species disappeared. Seeing this, our own people also indulged sometimes in felling, and we lost the traditional restraint that our elders had practised. But now we are bringing them back, and nature is responding.”

Those with a keen interest in the subject might wish to read the devastating analysis of JFM as practised at the time: Same Platform, Different Train, The Politics of Participation, Corner House Briefing 04, by Nicholas Hildyard, Pandurang Hegde, Paul Wolverkamp and Somersekhave Reddy, 3rd March 1998

Devinder Sharma visits Kadar tribal people in Kerala

Bringing back memories of CHS co-founder Winin Pereira’s visits to live with and learn from adivasis in Alonde, Devinder Sharma writes about his recent journey:

Deep in the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats, I met Maya. She is a tribal belonging to the Kadar tribe. Faced with extinction, there are only about 1400 Kadar in the world, of which about 850 live in the tribal settlements in Thrissur district in Kerala (about 150-200 kms from Kochi in Kerala).

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They depend on forest resources for their sustenance. Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon. Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them. Maya, along with a few more, had camped on the big rocks on the banks of a rivulet.

To learn more about them, Usha Soolapani and Sridhar R from Thanal in Thiruvanthapuram and I decided to walk up the rocks to meet some of them camping there. With just bare necessities, which includes a few aluminum utensils, a few clothes and a couple of bed sheets, Maya has been camping here for about two months. A frail puppy was tied outside the makeshift tent. The condition of the tent can be seen in the accompanying picture.  Usha and Sridhar did the talking being able to converse in Malayalam as well as Tamil. Maya told us that the entire family gets out into the forests to search and collect some tubers which are used in cosmetics, along with honey and a couple of minor produce. Sridhar Radhakrishnan tells me this tuber plant is called Manjakoova in Malayalam. It is an Yellow Arrowroot. She gets about Rs 100/kg for the cut and dried root tubers. You can see a picture of it in her hand.

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It is heartening to know that WWF-India had earlier initiated a dialogue with the Forest Department to set up a simple honey filtration unit for the Kadar communities. A benefit sharing mechanism from honey sale through the Forest Development Agency was also worked out. I am not aware of how this mechanism works. Since the Kadar have immense knowledge about ethnobotany I see an immense potential of documenting the traditional knowledge of some of the lesser known properties of the plant species found abundantly in these forests. It will be good to know of the benefits in monetary terms, if any.

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When they move to inside of the evergreen forest they put their essentials on a machan (platform) so that it escapes the eyes of wild animals. I asked Maya if she was content with her living conditions. She said yes and when I suggested why doesn’t she move to the nearby town she flatly refused. She told us that she and her family were very happy with what they are doing.

(Winin Pereira would have applauded her)

But perhaps the next generations will look at it differently. Her four children are in a school for tribals. I only hope the next generation helps to improve the lifestyle, and helps to strengthen the bonding with nature, using modern technology and expertise while at the same time making an economic transformation.

(And debated these points with Devinder)

But I only hope the next generation does not push for a complete abandonment of the tribal culture.

(Both would agree on this) 

Posted by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality