Case studies on traditional crops and NTFPs in Mandla and Dindori: Seeing with her own eyes


Case studies on traditional crops and NTFPs in Mandla and Dindori: Seeing with her own eyes

Nutrition Minor millets South Asia IFAD-EU NUS Capacity, Awareness & Policy

It is taught to us in schools that much of India depends on agriculture as an occupation but that the country does not have the appropriate irrigation infrastructure. Yet, gaining knowledge from books goes only so far - and the issue only made itself real to me when I was able to see the consequences with my own eyes. Though living in a city just a few hours from the farmers, I only understood after coming to Mandla that there was so much that I was unaware of.

In three recently published case studies, Shambhavi Priyam shares the results of observations and investigations she made on farming practices and livelihoods of tribal farmers in eastern Madhya Pradesh. This is one of the regions in India with the highest levels of malnutrition. It has a large indigenous population that maintains many traditional practices for farming and gathering wild plants, but their livelihoods and cropping systems are shifting and being challenged by the changing climate. Shambhavi describes:

I saw the transitions that the people of the region had made towards paddy, abandoning their traditional food practices. I also saw how hard the farmers tried to continue to maintain a symbiotic relationship with the forests and crops. Global climate change is a catastrophe that these farmers had little role in creating, but it very directly affects their lives. Not aware of how big the problem is, the communities see only the patterns of the rains alter and have to try hard to adapt their lifestyles to the changing conditions. 

In two case studies, Shambhavi investigates the use of minor millets – hardy traditional cereals, which have been declining in cultivation in Madhya Pradesh and India in the past decades. In one of the studies, Shambhavi identifies current trends in millet consumption and ways to promote their use among rural and urban consumers. The results suggest that improving the convenience and quality of processing will be essential to encourage use of millets among rural populations, while increasing awareness for their health benefits will be important to stimulate greater use among urban consumers.

In a second study, factors linked to farmers’ willingness to adopt improved cultivation methods for millets were explored. In addition to income, health, and education factors, Shambhavi investigated whether a sticker can be an effective way to remind farmers to weed their millet fields to improve their yields. The study showed the value of considering farmers’ psychology and socio-economic situation to induce better agricultural practices. The results suggest that stimulating income opportunities for millet production can be key for the economic empowerment of people living in poverty and can lead towards more nutritious and resilient agricultural systems.

Lastly, in a third article, Shambhavi documents the importance of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in the region, and examines the impact that their use has both on the forest and the tribal population. It questions whether NTFPs can be sustainable sources of food security, income, nutrition, and medicine. The major NTFPs collected by local peoples are documented, their value chains are mapped and barriers and challenges to their role in sustainable livelihoods discussed.

Through the process of conducting these studies, Shambhavi gained better insight into cultural and traditional farming practices of the peoples of Mandla and Dindori and has shared her insights with the IFAD-EU NUS Project team to advise interventions to enhance the role of traditional crops in the livelihoods and nutrition of local populations. She concludes:

In the wake of global climate change, a look back on traditional grains like the minor millets proves to be a promising option to tackle both food and nutritional security issues. Additionally, these grains can also be a healthy alternative for the urban population that is largely unacquainted with these foods. A well-established value-chain for these items could be a powerful step in the right direction.

Shambhavi Priyam independently conducted the three case studies with the support of ASA (Action for Social Advancement). She has since been engaged with Bioversity International as a consultant.


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