Read full article by Apekshita Varshney@CitizenMatters Photo Credit: Sahaja Samrudha
In 2002-03, G Krishna Prasad, weekend farmer and Director of the organic farmers’ collective Sahaja Samrudha, spotted a plot growing ragi in Bengaluru’s Lavelle Road. Older Bengaluru residents like him still have a special affinity for ragi. The sight took Krishna back to the 80s when he had surveyed rural Bengaluru to document the traditional akadi system of growing multiple crops simultaneously.
“The food system in Bengaluru was centred around the ragi-based cropping pattern,” Krishna says. Ragi was not grown alone, but “along with mustard, jowar, tur and castor as the intercrops. Mustard and castor (that are used to make oil) were the cash crops. This system was like insurance for the farmers,” he says. While the system of growing more than one crop to safeguard against losses has survived the test of time, the crops themselves have changed.
The locally-grown gourds and tubers have long been replaced by the more expensive ‘English vegetables’ like cauliflower and cabbage. Millet, for an average urban citizen, is now synonymous with ragi, and not other traditional varieties like Navane or Samai. And one thinks of toor dal while listing legumes, not avaray or tovaray.
Krishna has worked closely with and highlighted the native knowledge of seed savers and breeders, so as to conserve traditional seed varieties. In 2000, a group of weekend farmers like him who owned land around Bengaluru came together to raise awareness about indigenous seeds.
“When we saw that people were showing interest, we started participating in the Lalbagh fruits and vegetables exhibition,” he says. “Then from 2009 to 2014, we organised rice and millet melas to promote indigenous varieties.” Sahaja Samrudha now works with 7000 organic farmers, seed savers, seed producers and farmer-breeders from 20 districts of Karnataka.
What did Bengaluru eat 200 years ago?
In 1800, Dr Francis Hamilton Buchanan, a British surgeon and botanist, took his coterie across the Mysore Kingdom to record everything he saw: from agriculture and commerce, to antiquity. The surveys resulted in a comprehensive three-volume publication named ‘A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar’.
During a tour of South Karnataka and villages in and around Bangalore, Buchanan painstakingly noted crops, communities and agricultural processes. He found that many varieties of rice were cultivated on watered soil, while ragi dominated the dry fields.
“The crop of ragy”, he wrote, “is by far the most important of any raised on dry fields, and supplies all lower ranks of society with their common food.”
Buchanan described ragi as the food of the masses, but now, ragi is no longer the food of the “lower rank” alone. In fact, it’s embraced by the elite urban consumer who is focussed on health, keen on remembering and preserving family recipes, informed about local varieties, and a patron of the local millet cafe.
Buchanan had described the akadi system, too. According to him, ragi – or its three varieties, Cari, Kempu and Huluparia – was never grown alone, but always with the legumes avaray and tovaray, and other beans. Back then, Buchanan found, farmers grew ragi with the leguminous crops, because if ragi failed, the legumes flourished and “if ragi succeeded, the leguminous plants were oppressed by it.”