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Conserving local culture and enhancing local livelihoods

Lakshmi Unnithan

Meeting the demands of future food needs, while conserving natural resources, improving nutrition and improving farm livelihoods are the main challenges of 21st century. New approaches of problem solving, new ways of thinking and new partnerships have to be explored and adopted to meet these challenges.


Friends from urban areas participate in farm activities

There is an urgent need to promote metamorphic changes in how food is cultivated, processed, transported, stored, distributed and consumed. Agroecology  is recognised as critical to ensure to offer many benefits  including food security, resilience, boosting livelihoods and local economies, diversifying food production and diets, promoting health and nutrition, safeguarding natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem functions. It is critical to ensure the active participation of family farmers, in particular small-scale food producers, women and youth, in order to catalyse dialogue and cooperation to scale-up agroecology.

In this context, it becomes very important to be acquainted with individuals having new approaches of problem solving, new ways of thinking which tries to inculcate the ideas of boosting livelihoods, economies, improving diets, improving nutrition and diversifying food production. It’s indeed inspiring to track the journey of Savita Uday the teacher, folklorist and the founder of the Buda Folklore Museum, a Cultural Heritage Centre. A multifaceted woman, who inspires and empowers many on her way, her story reveals ingenuity and passion in boosting livelihoods and local economies, diversifying food production and diets, promoting health and nutrition, safeguarding natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem.


Box 1: BuDa programme

BuDa in Kannada stands for the beginning – the ground and the base. Everything is built upon that. BuDa folklore presently operates out of two locations: Honnavar and Angadibail (Ankola). Her programs were initially from her parents place in Honnavar. Her parents Dr. Shanthi Nayak and Dr. N.R Nayak, both Kannada professors, worked tirelessly for 40 years to conserve the folklore of the Uttarakannada region. They have authored over 80 books and documented the folklore through literature, arts, crafts, dance, food, drinks, songs, games, medicinal plants and costumes. The BuDa programs are conducted at either of these locations to experience the life and the culture of the community and to understand the interrelationship between people and nature in each place. BuDa folklore believes in the experiential learning philosophy and has designed the following programs for schools and colleges, whereby they can experience the rich natural and cultural heritage of the Uttara Kannada coastal belt.

 Study tour programme

River Route

They trace the entire route of the Sharavathi River from the origin till it meets the Arabian sea. We cover this through a combination of treks, boat rides and short stretches of road. In this journey, students explore beautiful historical islands, the course of the river, various land forms created by the river- The craft, art, food, folk gods and the people and their way of life.

Sea Route

Beach trek from Honnavar to Gokarana is along the coast and over the hills and camping along the beaches. This is a very unique kind of trekking which is possible only in this stretch.The people we interact are Halakki tribe and fishermen community.

Forest route

Students live in the forest, in the farm house at Angadibail, in the middle of paddy fields, surrounded by  mountains, streams and forests in Uttara Kannada district. Students are given exposure to rich folk culture of this region which includes the people of this region (Halakki, Gamokkalu, Gondas, Siddis and Kare okkalu). They study their food, art, craft, music, dance, architecture and their way of life .

They trek through the evergreen and moist deciduous forests of the Western Ghats and camp in villages that fall en route on our trek. It includes trekking to Yana Motigudda,the highest peak of this region.They study how the environment/landscape influences the life of this community or how the community adopt their lifestyle according to the surroundings.


Savita Uday, after her PhD, taught in a few schools. However, she soon discovered the restrictions of the classroom and decided to venture into teaching in different schools from Ahmedabad to Bangalore to Muscat in various conventional schools to alternative schools like Prakriya School, Bangalore and Valley School, Bangalore. As Savita taught geography in school, she found that majority of the children lacked experiences with land, forest and rivers and she realized the importance of taking classes within the school to being one with the Mother Nature. She quit the job and designed a program for the schools because she believed children learn better in a natural environment.The unique Buda study tour programme by Savita Uday allowed students from schools, colleges and universities to choose from a River, Sea or Forest routes to experience the rich ecological diversity in the landscape, meeting members of tribal communities that inhabit these spaces and learning about them in close quarters. Students spend one week to a month along rivers, the sea, and the deep forest lands and learn from experts –the tribal people (Halakki and Siddi) (See Box 1). A very unique way where in she introduced the tribals in these programs to take classes and teach folklores to the children in those schools, which was appreciated way beyond.

Savita has work on the farm throughout the year, giving a regular stable income to the local community who work on her farm.

Learning on the farm

She just couldn’t settle for teaching and her inner call was much beyond that – an inner call which called her back to her land. It all started with volunteering and land care activity at the Valley School, leading her to farming on her land.

Savita wanted to do much more, revive education and spread knowledge in a way that the next generations could benefit from it. Her calling to work on land was so ultimate that she went on to purchase 25 acres of land in the Angadibail village in the evergreen forests of Western Ghats and about thirty kms away from Gokarna, in the Uttara Kannada Region. She keeps reiterating the fact that she didn’t know what farming was, and she had never worked on land. Initial two years were a struggle according to her and she even kept thinking to herself that it was the biggest mistake which she did in life. Things weren’t falling in place as easily as she believed them to be. As her husband was away working in Tanzania, she also adds that she found a little lost in the initial years.

Kokum butter made from kokum fruits is used in cosmetic industry

The cultivable land (4 acres) of the total 25 acres that the Udays owned, was chemically treated. Hybrid rice was the main crop grown which required chemical fertilizers and pesticides. But, gradually over the last 5 years, Savita has made a shift to natural cultivation using lots of organic manure being incorporated into the soil, to improve soil quality.

At present she cultivates desi variety of rice namely Ratnachooda, Halaga and Heggae. The quantity she produces is enough to sustain them for a whole year and some to be distributed to her friends. Over years, her urban friends who helped her during the planting time, stayed at her place sponsoring their stay and food costs. This helped Savita to take care of the farm activities to an extent. Also, this arrangement paved way for organizing a two-day planting festival called Mungaru in the month of August.

All the varieties of paddy with their long and tasty leaves, serve as a preferred fodder for her livestock – 2 bulls, 4 cows and 3 calves. Also, there is high demand for her fodder these days. She has work on the farm throughout the year, giving a regular stable income to the local helps working on her farm. Thus, she is able to boost livelihoods and economies of the local community.


Kokum Festival

Kokum (Garcinia indica), is an ornamental fruit tree native to India. Its tiny fruit turns from red to deep purple as it ripens, tastes sour and also has a faint slight sweet aroma. Kokum has many medicinal properties.

The Kokum festival is a journey of kokum from tree to jar. The fruits are plucked, processed and preserved during this period. It starts with harvesting of Kokums. Participants wander into the nearby forest neighbourhoods in groups and collect kokum fruits in big woven baskets and bring them home.

The next step is to remove the soft fleshy outer part of the fruit  Kokum and separate the seeds to be made into butter, an emollient similar to shea or cocoa butter,which is often used in cosmetics such as lipsticks, moisturizing creams, conditioners and soaps. Some of the soft fleshy part is layered with jaggery and made into a jam like consistency which can be further made to squashes, jams and coirdials.

The dried rind of the fruit is  used as a culinary and medicinal agent, its colour turns almost black to purple in the sun and has gnarly edges.Some of the ripe fruits are used for making jam,wine,sherbets,kokum rasam etc.

We also experienced making Kokum butter from yesteryears kokum seeds. Kokum seeds were boiled and then grinded in the stone hand grinder and then boiled to separate an emollient similar to shea or cocoa butter.This is often used in cosmetics such as lipsticks, moisturizing creams, conditioners and soaps.


Savita has constructed a traditional farm house in Angadibail, where people can stay, participate and volunteer in all farm works. Buda, in due course has become another study centre in addition to the one in Honnavar, at her parents place. This beautiful experiential learning and farm-stay, takes in about 15 guests at a time, to teach them forgotten tribal ways of making food and crafts. The tribals of Halakki and Siddi community are invited to perform, depict stories, entertain and also assist in various works, which also provides them a stable and regular income.

Reviving forgotten foods

They organise a variety of festivals, in different seasons, revolving around the diversity of food, emphasising the importance of slow cooked food,the forgotten foods,the uncultivated greens and much more. These festivals emphasise that diversification is key to ensure food security. These festivals speak of diversifying food systems and the importance of diversified food in our diets and thereby promoting health and nutrition among the urban people. They reiterate the fact that there are endless possibilities in which one can prepare and eat your single favorite food in many ways too. Did you ever know how versatile Kokum is? Buda conducts Kokum festival in summer (May), Jaggery festival  during winter (Feb) and Mungaru (Rice planting) in monsoons (August).

Kokum is collected from the nearby forest during the Kokum festival

For a very long time, Savita never sold her products. She also refuses to brand her products. But, as the genuineness of her products is well known, orders started flowing in for her products. She sells her products during Ragi Kana in Bangalore. Even though her products are sold in cities, Savita is keen on partnering with organisations, that allow her to include a detailed story of each product that is given to the customer, along with the product.

Isn’t it truly admirable what individuals like Savita are passionately following? They speak their hearts, refuse to brand the food, urge more and more people to come, enjoy the festivals, the place, go back to slow living, travel down the memory lane,enjoy the forgotten foods, give us some  goodness along with some good laughter and lipsmacking food? It is truly wonderful to visit their place, to see how things are grown and appreciate the value of work done and share learnings.

 

Dr. Lakhmi Unnithan

Editor, Agriculture World,

206,Narmada Apartments ,

Near Don Bosco School, Alaknanda,

New Delhi 110019.

Email: dr.lakshmi@live.in.