By Manna Sainju, 2nd year MDP Student
My field placement started in Canada with a spring summer course from Dr. Shukla in the Department of Indigenous Governance. The course involved developing a research proposal within the context of community resilience in Indigenous communities in South Asia. However, after coming to the state of Andhra Pradesh, India - the field placement site - I realized that my proposed research goal and objectives had to be updated to make it relevant to the local context.
I’m currently living in a small rural village called Kotturu in northern Andhra Pradesh, which is surrounded by hillside dwelling Adivasi (Tribal/Indigenous) Savara communities. My research objective is studying the continuation of consumption of traditional food crops (specifically various small millets) and its impact on food security and nutrition among Adivasi communities.
Even when revising the research objective, little did I know that locating an Adivasi community that has maintained the cultivation and consumption of millets would prove to be indeed very challenging. After a series of preliminary field visits, we finally reached a village about an hour drive uphill from Kotturu where communities still practiced Podu (slash and burn) cultivation and consume millets. Cultivating millets is labour intensive and its market value is not attractive enough for Adivasis to cultivate them, in the face of the introduction of cash crops. Instead, over the last three decades, Adivasis have shifted to cultivating these cash crops, which include cashew, cotton, pineapple etc., which fetch additional income for these cash-strapped communities.
Although the quest for millets has been challenging, I am positive that I will be able to progress with my research in trying to understand issues around consumption of traditional food crops despite the changes these Indigenous communities have faced.
Apart from research work, living and working with my host family has been a valuable learning experience, as they have been working with Adivasi communities in the region for more than thirty years. They also have an organic vegetable garden from where we get to have a lot of organic mangoes (my favourite fruit). I have even developed the local habit of eating mangoes with the skin on, which has increased my daily fibre intake. And, every day I have been praying for the monsoon rains to pour down to provide relief from the scorching summer days, but we don’t always get what we want as the seasonal rains have been delayed so far!! Here’s to hoping they arrive soon…