Zaheerabad region of Medak district in South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, lies in the Deccan Plateau. The soils are predominantly black but small areas of sandy and black cotton soils are also seen. The average rainfall is 700 to 850 mm, which is erratic and also unevenly distributed. The soil depth in most of the red soils is not more than 6-8 inches. To counter such agro-climatic constraints farmers have developed various strategies, one of them being crop diversification.
The Deccan Development Society (DDS), a grass roots voluntary organisation working in the rural areas of Medak District, since the last decade and half, has been critically looking at the role of uncultivated foods, especially in improving the lives of the rural poor. Over 80 uncultivated foods consisting of vegetables, greens and berries have been identified and classified.
A majority of these are cultivated by women who are dalits and are at the lowest rung of the socio- economic ladder in their communities. They work as farm labour, to eke out a living. Crop diversity followed in the farms help them to overcome the unfavorable climatic conditions and still get good yields. They grow a minimum of 8 to 12 crops simultaneously.
For the people in the rural areas, especially the poor, uncultivated greens is the major source of food. Besides being a major source of food, they also form a major source of nutrition to the poor. Many types of green leaves are consumed as vegetables, and most of them are rich sources of calcium, iron, carotene, vitamin C and Folic Acid. These greens are inexpensive sources of many nutrients, which are essential for healthy growth. Such greens are consumed in adequate amounts, especially, by pregnant and nursing women and by children.
In sangam day care centers, preschool children are fed with a variety of greens, everyday, either with cereals, pulses or rotis. Thus, right from the formative years, children are fed with local, diverse, delicious and nutritious food from most safe and known sources. Every day, they collect these greens from fields, fences, and backyards. All women who go for weeding, collect edible greens for the day’s cooking.
To understand the contribution of these green vegetables towards the health of the poor, the uncultivated green leafy vegetables were subjected to scientific analysis. The greens were collected directly from the farm with the assistance of women, during the peak months of August and September. They were analysed at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, for the nutrient composition. The results revealed that Jonnachamcheli, one of the most common uncultivated green, contains 3237 mg of calcium per 100g of edible portion and 111.3 mg of iron; Adavi Pullakura, which is available through out the year, is also rich in iron and calcium, containing 139 mg and 331 mg respectively; and Tummikura, which is highly auspicious and consumed by every family, is rich in iron with 81.6 mg per 100g of leaf. The results once again proved that the knowledge and wisdom of our women is far superior.
Farmers celebrate this huge diversity present on their farms in various forms and while doing so they also celebrate the diversity of uncultivated greens present in their fields with great reverence. One such example is the celebration of “Shoonyam panduga”, a festival celebrated in the month of December, when most of the Kharif and Rabi crops are at maturity stage. Farming community worship the mother earth by walking around the field, singing special songs related to the festival and offering food specially made out of more than twenty uncultivated greens, available during that time.
The experience shows that uncultivated plants are an integral part of food systems in this region. The protection of agriculture biodiversity in the ecosystem, and the agricultural practices (mixed farming, multi-cropping and avoidance of herbicides and pesticides) will ensure the continuity of uncultivated foods in our cuisine and culture. These factors
bring certain advantages to the very poor besides being relevant to the well being of the majority population and enabling local command over food. These uncultivated foods are naturally fortified with most of the micro nutrients - like Beta carotene, vitamin C, Calcium, Iron etc., and therefore should be encouraged in the place of fortification and supplementation by artificial means.
Author: B. Salome Yesudas, Deccan Development Society (DDS), Pastapur, Zaheerabad, Medak District, Andhra Pradesh, India.
Source : LEISA India, Vol 6-1
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