Sunday, June 07, 2015

Nachni and Food Security - a village meal in the Palghar district

- by Deepa Krishnan

A few days ago, I had lunch in a small village home in the Palghar district of Maharashtra. The people who live in this village are tribal agriculturalists, practising subsistence farming.
One of the families cooked lunch for us. We ate sitting on mats on the floor. I was super-hungry and wolfed down my meal in minutes. Our hostess brought endless servings of everything, until I was fit to burst. Here's a photo of what I ate:
Everything on my plate was grown locally. There was rice, which is grown during the monsoon season on the nearby hill slopes in small terraces. There was bhendi (okra / ladies finger), chowli (black-eyed beans), tuar (pigeon-pea) dal, two types of home-made papad and a home-made mango pickle. All of it came from nearby farms and fields. 

But the thing that delighted me most was the dark brown roti, called nachni bhakri.  

Nachni (finger millet) is one of the healthiest things you can eat. Loads of calcium and iron. Lots of fibre. Slow to release sugar into the system, great if you're fighting a battle against weight gain. It's gluten-free too. I ate it with the spicy black-eyed beans, and it was delicious.

Nachni is a critical nutritional element for this kind of village. That's because nachni is a tough and flexible plant. It can grow in diverse soils, with varying rainfall regimes, and in areas widely differing in heat and length of daylight availability. It is hugely pest resistant. It doesn't even need chemical pesticides. So while a rice crop may fail for many reasons, a nachni crop is far more dependable, and can literally ward off starvation. 

In addition, nachni is easy to store. Once harvested, it is seldom attacked by insects or moulds. The long storage capacity makes it an important crop in risk-avoidance strategies for poorer farming communities.

In fact, not just nachni, all traditional millets are important for rural India. In the nearby Vikramgad weekly rural market, I photographed one of the stalls selling different types of millets and pulses. The dark coloured one on the right is nachni.
This area of Maharashtra has lots of rain in the monsoons, but goes very dry later. There is no irrigation. Here is how the land looks in the monsoons.
And here is how the area looks in summer:
There is no cultivation in summer, probably because the existing water management systems don't husband groundwater resources adequately for irrigation. For drinking and bathing, the government provides well water. Since there is only one main monsoon crop (rice), the dependence on that crop is very high. If that crop fails, the entire economic backbone of area will collapse. It is therefore sensible to divert some land - even 'warkas' land (low productivity land) is ok - to grow nachni and other millets for food security.

When I was researching this article, I read this very interesting and informative article on why millets are so invaluable. I highly recommend you read it too. After I read it, I've decided to start eating more millets. I'm going to reduce my intake of rice and wheat, because really, from all points of view, it looks like the smart thing to do. 

4 comments:

malathi rai said...

Wow‼ very informative article

Janis R said...

I so appreciate your insights and educating me about the India tourists don't see.

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robertsganj said...

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