In a small village of 10 households called Dhumerbhatta in Kashipur, Kondh adivasi families live by cultivating varieties of millets and pulses on the mountains and rice and maize in the plains. Amidst the beautiful mountain range with the monsoon just hitting the area, one of the village men carried two huge Jackfruits which were abundantly available from the nearby forest. The kids ran behind him to get their portions and returned with some for the group of men and women sitting with us for a discussion. As we sat there discussing their agriculture, what they cultivated? what they ate? what they sold? One of the women said, ‘We are Mandiya (Ragi) porridge eating people, we only sell Ragi and other millets after we have kept enough stock for ourselves. If we sell all of it what will we eat?”
They explained how they needed very few things from the market. They produced millets like Ragi (finger millet), Kosala (little millet), Kangu (fox tail Millet) and crops like rice and maize, pulses like Kandulo (pigeon pea) and Biri (black gram) during monsoon, they also got many leafy vegetables from the forests like Borda Sag, Chakunda sag, Joba sag, Gudi sag, and other edible leafs (Will update the English names of them soon) during summers which keeps them nourished during the lean periods. They also get PDS rice apart from the rice they store for the whole year from their produce during monsoon which avoids shortage of rice at all times. The availability of fruits, leafy vegetables and roots from the forest keeps the village nourished during the food shortage period.
As we discussed the the number of fruits that they collect from the forest, one of the women recollects an incident from the village. During the monsoon period of 2016, the Forest Department created a nursery in the village of trees like Nilgiri which were to be then planted in the forest. The Food and Agroecological Approaches to Malnutrition project had just began in 2016 around the same time and the 1st Participatory Learning and Action- Linking Agriculture and Natural Resource to Nutrition (PLA-LANN) meeting on the topic of Inequity and how the availability of land and forests in some villages and its unavailability in other can create shortage of foods in the landless and forest-less villages making them food insecure as compared to the villages with land and abundant forests, was conducted in the villages. The co-incidence of the meetings and the insistence of the forest department to plant these trees in their part of forest led to the villagers thinking of what is useful and not useful to them?
The villagers refused planting of trees that were not fruit giving or that did not give them food. The woman narrating the incident asks, “Once these Nilgiris are planted we cannot touch them as they would belong to the department and we have no use of it. If the forest becomes of trees that don’t give food what will my children eat after I’m gone?” Along with Dhumerbatta, 4 other near by villages also resisted the planting of trees that not useful in their village.
The importance of forest biodiversity and forest foods for adivasi communities lies not only in their food security, livelihood and nutrition but covers a huge part of their everyday life and cultural identity. This can be better explained by the adivasis themselves. Here is a video by Living farms with the help of Jason Taylor who helped us document their perspective of their Forest of Gods.