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Bringing back millets into food systems

Nature has provided a unique system of food security. From the womb of a mother, the life starts securing food and the process continues during the childhood and onwards. Plants also secure its own food through photosynthesis. Human being is the only creature who needs frequent food otherwise there are many live animals who can live for months without food.

Historically, societies secured its food needs from its own ecosystem and they were self-dependent. Mahatma Gandhi also advocated village republics towards this approach. Alas, today the whole agriculture and food security is going to be in the hands of multi-nationals. In all the Indian Himalayan states from Jammu Kashmir to Nagaland, there may be diversity in dialect, forest resources and food habits but there is uniformity in agriculture, livestock and forest dependent livelihoods. Millets are an important component of this food habit. The endurance capacity and physical strength of people living in hills is well known which has been primarily due to the food habit. People had system of common food stocks in the villages.

Uttarakhand, though a small state of 53483 sq. km. and a population of 90 lakhs has only 13 percent irrigated agricultural land. The unirrigated land has been well managed for food production by dividing it into two cropping periods which is known as ‘Saar’ system. One ‘Saar’ comprises of crops like ‘Madua’ ‘Baranaja’ and another one has crops like ‘jhingora’ and un-irrigated paddy. This system ensures food diversity as well as soil fertility. ‘Baranaja’ is quite common in every part of Uttarakhand. In ‘Baranaja’ cropping system more than 12 varieties of cereals are grown. ‘Chaulai’ and ‘Kuttu’ are also used as green vegetables ‘Rajma’ has protein amount equal to meat products and those who use ‘kulath’ are prevented from problems of kidney stone. The bread of ‘Madua’ and rice of ‘jhangora’ is quite popular which are full of nutrients. These millets provide energy and strength to people engaged in hard physical labour.

Inspite of decreasing diversity, even today ten types of food crops namely paddy, wheat, mandua, jhigora, kangri, keena, ogal (kuttu), ramdana, chaulai, jowar are quite common. Every season has 40- 50 domestic vegetables and 30-35 varieties of wild vegetables. There are almost 12-15 varieties of pulses. Domestic and wild fruit varieties are also common. There are almost 5-6 varieties of fishes in smaller rivers and people are also fond of meat of goat-sheep, poultry etc. Though, livestock has decreased significantly but still almost every family has one buffalo and people consume milk besides selling it in market. Terrace cultivation has helped in growing fruits, fodder, medicinal plants etc. Kitchen garden is also common. There is a famous saying in the region according to which wild animals, climate change and government (policies) are the biggest enemies of farming’. Wild animals like monkey and boars have created problems. The increasing climate uncertainties are also affecting adversely. Areas which received 3 ft snow are now with no snow at all. More importantly, government policies have a strong influence on the food and farming systems of a region. Due to government policies, the traditional crops are being replaced by cash crops. It is also evident that maximum number of farmers who have committed suicides are those who have gone in for cost intensive cash crops.

Civil society organisations have been making a lot of efforts in preserving the millet growing culture in the region. Beej Bachao Andolan, a movement against the use of chemicals in millets like ‘madua’ and ‘Jhangora’ is one among them. Of late some of the measures taken by the government are positively inclined in bringing about this change in farming systems. For instance, the recently started government scheme for promoting millets for nutritional security is expected to benefit millet growers. However, there is also a growing fear that multi-nationals will capture these nutritional crops also. Out of 300 crores sanctioned for the scheme, Uttarakhand has received 5.87 crores for promotion of ‘Madua’ and ‘Jhangora’. However, the way the state agriculture department is implementing the scheme, it is feared that neither these millets will be conserved nor the fertility of soil be improved.

Vijay Jardhari
Beej Bachao Andolan,
Henwalghati, Nagani,
Tehri Garhwal,
Uttarakhand – 249175
E-mail: vijayjardhari@gmail.com