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10 tribal women from Kerala fighting to preserve their unique food culture

The tribal women of Wayand who are fighting to preserve their traditional food crops. Photo: Special Arrangement.

A group of ten tribal women from Wayanad in Kerala are winning the hearts of people for putting up a formidable fight to preserve their unique food culture amidst the dominance of commercial crops. They have embarked on a mission to preserve their food ethnicity by successfully cultivating 180 traditional varieties of tubers that have faded into obscurity.

Though they are not able to make good returns from their efforts, they are putting their heart and soul into reclaiming their heritage and safeguarding biodiversity.

For centuries, their tribal community Uraali Kurumas has also cultivated a diverse array of tubers, each with its unique flavour, texture, and nutritional profile. However, the advent of large-scale farming and the rise of monoculture have marginalised these traditional crops.

But undeterred by the challenges posed by modern agricultural practices, Saranya Sumesh (31), Kamala Bineesh (33), Rani Rajan (46), Santha Narayanan (43), Lakshmi Karunakaran (61), Santha Manoharan (55), Sarada Ramachandran (60), Sunitha Raju (32), Sarasu Gopi (40), and Bindu Raju (38) of Irumbupalam tribal hamlet, Thirunelly formed a movement called “Noorang” to take 75 cents of land on lease to cultivate 180 varieties of tubers. Their journey is not merely one of nostalgia but of resilience and sustainability.

“All of us are housewives and daily wage workers who came together to cultivate tubers, which play an important role in our culture and diet for many years. We aim to diversify local diets, enhance food security, and conserve indigenous biodiversity. These tubers are well-suited to our local climate and soil conditions, offering a more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional crops. We are really proud that we could cultivate the tubers that were once part of the diet of our ancestors,” said Saranya Sumesh.

The tribal women at their farm in Wayanad where they are cultivating traditional varieties of tubers

The group had to do extensive research to locate the tubers for cultivation after collecting inputs from senior members in their community. “It took days of effort to locate the specific crops that grow only in the forest,” they told “Open Digest“.

Some varieties of tubers they now cultivate include Narakizhang, Noora, Thun Kachil, Sugandha Kachil, Payasa Kachil, Makkaleppotti, Karinthal, Velunthal, and Karimanjal.

The women’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed as more local communities embraced their initiative, recognising the importance of preserving traditional agricultural practices in the face of rapid modernisation. They say that they need support to take their indigenous and local farm produce to more people. “We do participate in local fairs and exhibitions to showcase the tubers. But we really need support from like-minded people to highlight the importance of preserving our indigenous crops,” they added.

One Comment

  1. Krishna May 17, 2024

    Inspiring and encouraging blogs about people with a never say die attitude.

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