Back to the roots, literally                         

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Read full article by Swapna Majumdar@BusinessLine PC: BL &HPSBB

Going back to traditional foods could reduce malnutrition and promote livelihood options

When an initiative for sea buckthorn cultivation in the high-altitude, cold desert ecosystems of Spiti in Himachal Pradesh was launched, the first to benefit were women. Handicapped by the heavy snowfall that cut them off from the rest of the country for six months in a year, the lack of sustainable livelihood options meant no regular income for the women living here. But sea buckthorn, a shrub that grew wild on the banks of the Spiti river, opened new windows to their world.

Promoted by the Centre’s environment ministry and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the project that has transformed the lives of women is based on a technology developed by the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR), a wing of DRDO. It turns sea buckthorn, the bright orange wild berries available in the region, into a popular beverage.

Although Himalayan faith healers have been using the vitamin and mineral-rich sea buckthorn for its medicinal properties for decades, DIHAR’s scientific innovations and global research proving its healing powers for diabetes and high blood pressure has helped make this fruit a sustainable source of economic empowerment.

In the last 10 years, berry collections have more than doubled and incomes have quadrupled. In fact, even the dried leaves of these berries are now sold for ₹300 a kg.

Just as the locally grown sea buckthorn transformed lives in Spiti, it is the yongchak tree that has boosted fortunes in Manipur. Also known as bitter beans, just four to five of the yongchak pods sell for ₹100. With a tree producing more than 15,000 pods in a season, it can provide income of over ₹1.5 lakh. Planting yongchak trees gained currency not just for its nutritional value, but also for its anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-diabetic medicinal properties.

Interestingly, yongchak saplings are gifted to daughters when they marry, although dowry does not exist in Manipur. Considered an investment to help their daughters tide over any economic misfortune, the trees provide an assured regular income once they bloom in about five years.

Business of Taste, the recent publication by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) under its First Food series of books, documents such interesting facts and includes over 100 recipes sourced from local biodiversity. It also underlines how the use of local resource in creating opportunities for livelihood promotion is not just good for the communities but also for conservation of natural resources. It has been seen that when livelihoods of local communities are directly linked to conservation, both prosper. “But communities will stop caring for this resource if they fail to earn from it. With this, we will lose the taste of biodiversity from our plates. To prevent this, we need to put a value to it,” says Sunita Narain, director general, CSE.

Millet magic
Not putting enough value on local plants is one of the reasons why malnourishment and anaemia continue, especially among rural women. In Karnataka, the Soliga tribes known for their traditional knowledge and food culture still suffer from malnutrition and other health problems. Research shows that the Soligas suffer from sickle cell anaemia.


Posted on

February 12, 2020

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