|Uncultivated Foods and the Poor|
Zaheerabad region of Medak District in the South Indian State of Andhra Pradesh is situated in the semi arid tract. Lands here are rainfed and highly degraded. Soil depths in most places are less than 6 inches. Red soils dominate the land. Consequently productivity is abysmally low. Farmers feel extremely lucky if an acre of land produces two quintals of sorghum. Erratic rainfall which has become the hallmark of the last decade leaves even this level of productivity with a question mark seriously threatening the food security of the poor who mainly own these type of lands.
It is in this context that one should look at the agriculture of the poor and the role of uncultivated food in their lives.
Agriculture of the poor is characterized by the celebration of bio-diversity on their lands. A minimum of 8 to 12 crops is grown by them at the same time and space on their lands. The symbiotic relationship between these crops can be seen in a wide range of issues: soil management, fertility management, internal cycle of inputs, pest control, labour management, diet management, risk insurance and many others.
Outside of such materialistic issues, farmers also look at their agro bio-diversity from a spiritual point of view. The diversity on their fields is their way of celebrating nature and establishing a communion with it. In this celebration they not only see the role of their cultivated diversity but also the overwhelming contribution of the enormous diversity of uncultivated foods.
A major reason for this spiritual celebration of diversity is the fact that uncultivated foods, over the millennia have been the source of life for the poor. It has made up a part of the quantum of the food they consume as well as the major source of nutrition for them.
Many types of green leaves are consumed as vegetables, and most of them are rich sources of calcium, iron, carotene, vitamin c riboflavin and folic acid. These greens are inexpensive sources of many nutrients, which are essential for growth, and maintenance of normal health. Consumption of such greens in adequate amounts especially by pregnant and nursing women and by children should also be encouraged. If greens are included in the diet in adequate amounts the need for fruits as an essential item (which is relatively costly) in diet is much reduced.
Green leafy vegetable requirement per day in grams is as follows:
An average intake of about 50 gms of greens provides the required amount of vitamin-A to the child. Regular intake of greens in such amount will also help to build up a store of the vitamin-A in the body to provide for the lean seasons. An intake of about 100 gms of a mixture of greens daily by pregnant woman will ensure adequate storage of vitamin-A in the liver of infants at birth. Consumption of adequate amounts of greens, which are rich in folic acid, helps to correct Megaloblastic anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can be prevented by daily consumption of greens. Most of the greens are alkali-producing foods, fiber to the diet. Greens are particular rich in riboflavin. In general greens are rich sources of calcium, iron, magnesium etc. In recognition of all above said merits practically every health and nutrition agency advises people to grow greens in kitchen gardens, nutrition gardens, school gardens, Bio-intensive kitchen gardens etc.
However what are people's practices, consumption patterns and food sources to access this most important component part of nutrition is an area that hardly attracts attention. Uncultivated Foods as the richest source of nutrition for the poor and as an unique practice of the poor to sustain their food security offer a wonderful opportunity for an exciting study.
The Deccan Development Society, a voluntary rural development organisation which has been working in Medak District since the last decade and half has been looking at the role of uncultivated foods specially in the lives of the poor.
Since 1989, the health workers of the society, have taken the lead in understanding this role of uncultivated foods in the lives of the poor. They have identified and classified over 80 uncultivated foods consisting of vegetables, greens and berries. A majority of these women are dalits and are at the lowest rung of the socio- economic ladder in their communities and work as farm labour to eke out a living. Therefore, the perspectives they bring are very significant from the point of view of gender and poverty.
The Deccan Development Society initiated another study during June 1999, which was exploratory in nature. To begin with the information regarding the uncultivated greens available during rainy season was documented in detail.
Uncultivated crops: Source of food for poor
Most of the rural people especially the poor consume uncultivated crops at least 50-80 days in a year. Earlier it was eaten for more number of days. Poor while working in their fields gather these greens and bring them to house. Those who don't work go around the near by fields specially to gather these greens. Doggali Koora, Gangavayeli, Sannavayeli and Pundi are consumed throughout the year. Pundi and Doggali Koora are eaten more than 20 times in a year by some families. When monitorized each family consumes uncultivated crops worth Rs.500-1000 out of their total expenditure on vegetables is around Rs.1500 - Rs.2000 depending on family size. Some of the greens like Gunugu are sold as green fodder in near by towns. Uncultivated foods like Chennangi, Soyikoora, Adonda and Adivikakarakaya are also sold in towns, as they are preferred by people in towns, as they are good for health. Greens like Talaili and Kashapandla chettu are never uprooted, as their availability is less and have high medicinal value. Even the landlords ask the labour not to weed these two plants, which shows its importance in the lives of people and their concerns to protect them. Kasapandla chettu is called "Davakhalnaleni Mandu". "Mydkur Narasamma" of Metlakunta lives only by selling these uncultivated greens in "Bidar" a near by town. She is very old and has fracture in hand cannot work as labour and hence slowly collects these foods and sells in the town.
Chemical agriculture - reduced availability of uncultivated crops
All the uncultivated greens are present mostly in Farm Yard Manure applied fields or in fields where chemical fertilizers are not applied. Very few greens are seen in chemical fertilizer applied fields as they die when they are young due to burning effect. Due to this only half of what use to be available previously is available now. In fertilizer applied fields greens are picked only after one or two irrigation which causes fresh leafs growth other wise it is not safe for health says 'Narasamma of Kalbemal village'. In pesticide fields greens are not collected.
Past history clearly indicates that uncultivated foods had a major share in the food consumed during famines and stress periods. In Zaheerabad region when there was famine 18 years ago people survived for 4 months by eating only these uncultivated greens specially Doggalikoora, Gangavayeli, Sannavayeli, Pundi, Gunugu Koora, Uttareni and Kapringa Pandlu. People ate more of curries made of these greens and negligible roti and rice. Pundi was even mixed in Jowar flour and rotis were made, as there was not enough flour. Poor people used to go for well digging and well restoration and collected these greens from near by sugarcane fields.
Uncultivated foods are tasty
They are tastier. 'Santoshamma' of Basanthpur village says that Doggalikoora is more nutritious than broiler egg is. Some time's different leaves of uncultivated greens are cooked together. These foods do not need any species except a little bit of oil but still they are tastier according to Seshamma of Algole village. Sometimes leaves of these greens are cooked by adding little bit of onion. Generally they are mixed with gram dal, Redgram dal, lentil dal and greengram dal.
High medicinal value of uncultivated crops
Uncultivated crops play a key role in the health care of poor people. They utilise these greens in different forms like curry, leaf extracts and tablets etc. to cure common ailments like headache, swellings, wounds, scabies, improper digestion and major diseases like jaundice and diabetes.
Atteli koora when fed to postnatal mothers improves breast milk availability to infants. When lactating mothers eat pundi it is good for infants as it keeps their stomach free. Uncultivated plants like Kashapandla chettu is called "Davakhana leni Mandu" by people.
What is uncultivated food?
In the study, we have used word "uncultivated" in a more general way to denote either of the following three categories.
A preliminary study was done in 10 villages of Zaheerabad region. Information collection comprised mainly of observation and open ended discussions. Small group meetings with women were organized to understand the collective knowledge of women from the disadvantaged section. Detailed information was collected about uncultivated foods available during rainy season and same method will be followed for uncultivated foods during winter and summer season. DDS field staff and Sangam Karyakarthas facilitated this study whereas women members of the sangam were resource persons.
Classification of uncultivated foods
They are classified according to seasonal availability and their occurrence in irrigated and dry land conditions. Some of these foods are available in rainy and winter season and a few throughout the year. Leaves and flowers of some trees which are also consumed as foods are listed separately.
Classification of uncultivated foods according to seasonal availability
Rainy season (June to September)
List of trees whose leaves and flowers are cooked are available throughout year
Classification according to occurrence in irrigated and rainfed conditions
Some uncultivated foods are available both in irrigated and dry lands and some only in any one of these situations. The classification is as follows:
Detailed information about each of the items of uncultivated foods collected on the following aspects.
These uncultivated greens are some times cooked in combination with other greens.