The change in the socio economic needs among the Malayalis, the local tribe of Kolli, Tamil Nadu, has brought a shift in the indigenous agriculture. As a sign, food crops are being replaced by cash crops. While it serves as a quick money minting method, the question of food security remains blotted.
Dhanpal, a villager from Sellipatti, was offered one lakh by the Government under the Indra Awaz Yojna scheme that provides housing for rural people. However, this amount was insufficient for construction and he ended up taking a loan of 2.5 lakhs from others.
Unable to repay, his paddy fields were taken away.
He worked for four months in the fields of Erode and Salem, and brought home 40% of the produce – which should last his family until the next harvest.
This story pertains to most of the farmers in Kolli.
Dhanpal made meager profits through pig rearing and started poultry for self consumption. He raised goats and sold its milk to Aavin Milk Corporation in exchange for rice and pulses.
Saroja, the Kaveriamman women’s self help group representative said, “Only kids until the age of three consume milk here. No one travels 3 km to the milk corporative society just to fetch a litre of milk from the corporation.”
The papaya fruit which grows in Dhanpal’s garden is neither sold, nor eaten. “We are bored of it,” he sighs. The Guava, orange, bananas and Jackfruits which are grown in house gardens are never consumed by the villagers. Instead they are sold to middlemen at a marginal price.
The intake of proteins among villagers has decreased over the past 10 years with the shift in cultivation from Ragi to Tapioca. “Tapioca provides for immediate income, but not for sufficient nutrients,” said Kateshwari, a nutritionist working with M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF)
Probably not a direct result of shift in cultivation, but “monthly health check camps conducted in Primary Health Centres showed that most children are underweight, the women are anaemic and majority of them suffer from Calcium and Iodine deficiency,” she said.
Malayali women take less than 50 grams of meat a month. “As per the tradition, a woman eats only after her whole family is done eating. There are times when we do not get enough,” said Senthamarai from Alavadi village.
Fish, a major source of Vitamin A and proteins, has never been a part of their diet. As an MSSRF initiative, several varieties of fishes were released in the community pond and steps are being taken to educate women on how to cook fish.
As a quick fix to the problem, the agriculture department introduced rice varieties from the plains. According to Balakumar, an agricultural scientist working with MSSRF, this was a failed plan since those “did not suit the soil here and hence gave low yield.”
“The rising expenses, increasing population, deforestation and lack of interest among the young to learn the indigenous agroforestry system are a threat to food security of Kolli,” he added.