The uncivilized food

A rainy day of the end of August. Raindrops kept pouring over the green waves of rice fields. It seems that there would be a good harvest this year. Ranu looked outside the door, came back lazily and peeped into the drum, where she stores rice from previous years. She looked bothered – the stock would last for just three more days!

This is not only about Ranu’s family. Many such families in the eastern and central India are facing the same trouble. You have paddy in the field which are yet to be harvested and your stock of rice from the previous year is exhausted – food is not available either from harvest or from stocks. This is a typical ‘hunger period’ for rural India (June to September), when households have to take special measures to acquire the food that they consume in normal time. After few months of harvest season, the households start running out of food stocks and money from crops sale, while the increasing humidity impend to depreciate the remaining stocks. This situation can vary between households, depending on stock size and number of household members. Only a better off household can provide the same number of calories per capita.  For example, in Joynagar II block of Sundarban, 22% of the very poor household constantly suffer from hunger throughout the year and around 8% of poor households suffer from hunger throughout the year. Whereas, 27% of overall population undergo a period of hunger during the months of September, to November. In Pathar Pratima block of Sundarbans, which is closer to the coastal area, the hunger time peaks during the same months – 36% of the households suffer from hunger.   Similar stress has been recorded in places like Banswara in Rajasthan, Panna in Madhya Pradesh, Purulia and Bankura in West Bengal, Muniguda in Odhisha and Deoghar in Jharkhand. Bird’s eye view often miss out what an ant can see!

This hunger period coincides with the peak of agricultural work. The population lacks of the requisite calories and micronutrients when they are most required. On an average, the average calorie consumption drops to 1,500 kcal during this hunger period.

How is this averted

AlternativeFood_CEiBa Vol3 Issue 4
Forest resources as alternative food for many

The tribal households supplement their diet with products from the forest – often on a daily basis. I can recall the wonderful taste of boiled tamarind soup and deep fragrances of mahua petals in Jharkhand forest villages. Both products are harvested in March and April and contribute more than eighty percent to the income from forest products. Tamarind can be consumed but is mostly sold. Petals from mahua trees are collected by all family members and roughly dried before selling to the middlemen or collecting salt in lieu of them.

Studies with the Dongaria Kondh community in Niyamgiri hills of Odisha and Paharia community in Jharkhand shows that the forests provide rich food sources throughout the year – especially in summer and rainy season, which coincides with the hunger period. People in Sundarbans have fish, crab from overflown ponds and rice fields. There are many wild tubers to supplement carbohydrate need and wild leafy vegetables. Forests gift many types of wild mushrooms which is particular to a typical natural setting, like termite mount. I was part of a project which had identified 12 such varieties from forests of Jhargram with the help of local people – but miserably failed to domesticate any of them! A wild Jackfruit means food for many. Nothing can be compared to the sweet and sour taste of a wild mango – the juicy insides of which can be sucked by making a small hole. If you arrive in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh on a rainy day – you might experience people not having enough rice to eat, but they will treat you to jackfruits, mangoes, bananas of various shape, size and taste and small sized pineapple with heavenly taste. Palmyra palm, falsa (Indian Sherbet Berry) – nature had it all for challenging the hunger period – till the time we were made to understand that food only meant ‘rice’.

It is now an accepted fact that Green Revolution in sixties has replaced many indigenous rice (paddy) varieties having distinct aroma & taste, nutritional & medicinal properties with a handful of high yielding rice varieties. This usurp was further stabilized by the universal public distribution system, food support in integrated child development scheme and midday meal scheme. Mostly few varieties of those high yielding varieties of polished white rice were procured by the government and supplied through these schemes. This quick fix solution has eventually helped is addressing food availability but has grossly ignored the diversity in diet and diversity of crops in the field. Food in India has never been rice only – PDS has equalized all of us. In certain community, white rice became symbol of being babu – a gentleman. We forgot millet, we forgot oils like sesame oil, flax seed oil, Mahua oil, Roselle oil, we forgot many types of beans and pulses – we were, in true sense, universalized. We seldom realized that – we got food security, but we lost our rights of choosing food in an unnoticed manner.  Though with push from civil society organizations, millet has been ‘officially’ been introduced in PDS, but procurement by the government has been very poor as revealed in a question answer session in the parliament. Only Haryana has been procuring Bajra consistently since 2016. Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat have been irregular in procuring millet for PDS. Another classic example of technology, supported and pushed by the government, usurping our diversity is BT cotton. We had huge biodiversity of cotton in India – now, even if a farmer wants to grow cotton other than BT cotton, the chance of getting seed in the market is almost nil. However, BT technology is considered to be a path breaking technology in pest management, but it remained the most debated technology in crop production in India. Questioning BT technology is often considered anti-science and anti-progressive.

Coming back to our story of the other India, to make everyone ‘civilized’ – rations of rice, clothes, soap, perfumed oils reach the unreached. Hunting gathering is considered uncivilized. As the food habits of the people change – there is no urge to protect the forests or common land from where food was once collected. Meanwhile, the demand for hard cash has increased. Some cut down trees in the forest and sell them off, others start agriculture – and the crops are taken away by the moneylenders – in exchange of urban needs like perfumed oil, toothpaste or white salt. The fancy practices of so called ‘civilisation’ has reached rural India, but not the school or doctor or hospital – and it has crushed certain ways of ‘uncivilized’ life.

In search of ‘uncivilized’ food

And then one day I came to a Paharia village on the top of a hill from Rajmahal range, grasping for breath after an uphill journey. I had an invitation to the village to go with them on a food trail. Two ladies came with baskets – I was to accompany them, while the rest stayed back to grind corn flour in a mortar. Avoiding the giant spiders hanging in their skywebs, the ants’ nests on the tree branches, and the weird millipede on the ground, we started our journey to the forest. The first stop was to collect wild potatoes. The scythe and the hoe dug and sliced. A handful of potatoes came out.

“How did you realize that there are potatoes here?”, my naive question.

The elderly lady looked at me with her wrinkled face, “Don’t you see the tree?”

“But there are many such trees around – how does one realize whether it bears potatoes or not!”

“Simple, by looking at the colour of the leaves!”, she was surprised by my ignorance. I know what is available where in these five hills.” Five hills – my jaw dropped, we have to look at the Google map at every step!

Exploration and harvesting are part of local food culture_CEiBa Vol3 Issue 4
Exploration and harvesting are part of local food culture

Meanwhile, the other lady harvested three or four more varieties of yam. Some irregular shaped – some regular. I was similarly awestruck in one of the Nepali villages in Chitwan – the villagers treated us to nine varieties of wild yam. Between these two places, few seemed common – but local names were different. In Chittagong Hill Tracts, I had seen wild yam, which exactly looks like a coconut!

We found wild custard apples. A snake was chased away to collect a few wild spine gourds. The lady, Somria Paharin collected few broad leaves.

“What will you do with the leaves?”

“Ah! Seems you know nothing,” said Somaria. That’s right – I almost know nothing. We almost know nothing about when to harvest, what to harvest, which should I save for the future and which should I harvest now. Why me, even the scientists will not have the knowledge base of the Somarias.

We collected few leafy vegetables, some wild pointed gourds.  Then we started descending the hill. Jomi Paharin pointed down and said, “Let’s go to the fountain and hunt crabs.” Hunger in stomach, and my legs giving away – I struggled to keep pace with them. Two women, twenty years older than me, went down swiftly. The crabs were dug out from the bottom of the rocks – small red crabs. It was fantastic how they could catch those impossibly fast-moving creatures. I will not increase the burden of my own humiliation with the description of the breathless return journey.

We came back, I saw water boiling in the pot. After washing the potatoes, they went into the pot. Vegetables were washed, chopped with a sickle and fried in Mahua oil. Boiled corn powder made into a dough. Wrapped in the leaves, the crab went into the fire with salt, chilli and garlic. A hilly country wine made of corn was accompanied by the food in a leaf plate and a leaf bowl. My urban tongue was amazed by the simple food, less salty but spicy, earthy and tasty.

The Paharia community identified 10 types of mushrooms, 8 types of aquatic weeds, 5 types of honey, 20 types of birds, 24 green leafy vegetables, 15 types of fruits, 6 types of vegetables, 6 types of legumes, 2 types of millets, 3 types of flowers, 4 tubers and 3 types of seeds which are available in the wild. These were available aplenty even 30 years back, taking care of their nutritional need – one third of them are almost extinct now.

Treasures are still there – but oh where is the map to the treasure island?

References

  1. Study by Fight Hunger First Initiative by Welthungerhilfe in various locations from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh during 2012-13
  2. Forest as Food Producing Habitat. Debal Deb, Kavitha Kuruganti, Debjeet Sarangi URL: https://livingfarms.co.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/6-Forests-as-Food-producing-habitat.pdf
  3. The Hidden Treasure/ Anshuman Das/ https://leisaindia.org/uncultivated-foods-the-hidden-treasure/
  4. Uncultivated Food of Souryia Paharia Community/PP Hembram, Krishnakant
  5. Luth hoe jay swadesh bhumi / Debal Deb
  6. Loksabha Unstarred question 418 /4th February 2020
  7. Everybody Loves a Good Draught/P. Sainath
  8. Forest Resources of Jharkhand / Anuja Tigga, B. Hema Malini/ https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333746500_Forest_resources_of_Jharkhand
  9. Forest Resources and Its Conservation of Kolhan Division, Jharkhand / Arpana Premi, Lina Oraon/ http://oaji.net/articles/2016/1115-1464938841.pdf
  10. Non Timber Forest Products: Availability, Production, Consumption, Management and Marketting in India. CP Mitchel, SE COrbirdge, S Jewitt, AK Mahapatra, S Kumar URL: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/57a08ce8ed915d3cfd0016d4/R6916FTR.pdf

About Author:

 

Anshuman Das
Welthungerhilfe

Programme Manager, Kolkata
E-mail: Anshuman.Das@welthungerhilfe.de

The world of flowers

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the beauty of flowers seems to be universal. Flowers are associated with every occasion of human life as symbols of expression, making them somewhat of a living emoticon. Culture and geography greatly influence the specificities of flowers for each occasion although this is quickly being replaced by a monoculture of hybrid flowers offered by the expanding floriculture industry. These flowers represent only a select fraction. The greater fraction of flowers that we hear so less about are greatly valued for their biological functions more than their physical appeal. All our fruits, pulses, most vegetables and oils are the gifts of these flowers obtained by a process called pollination! The annual value of animal pollinated crops in India is Rs. 4,22,827.52 crores (2012-13 data) of which Rs 1,12,615.73 crores is insect-pollinated (Chaudhary, 2017). This represents a small fraction (108 crop plants) of all plants whose pollination products are of commercial value but note that pollination is the only way for regeneration and sustenance in most plants (except for plants that can be propagated by vegetative parts). India has a whopping 18,666 species of flowering plants that support a diversity of ecosystems as life-providing primary producers. One can only imagine how valuable sustenance of these species is!

In its most basic explanation, pollination is the transfer of male gametes (pollen grains) of a flower to female gametes of the same flower or flower from a different plant (Fig. 1).

Transfer of pollen grains_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4
Fig.1. Transfer of pollen grains [1] between two flowers of different plants [2] same flower. The yellow-colored ones are the anthers, part of the male reproductive organ that contain pollen grains and the red-coloured ones are the stigma, the receptive part of the female reproductive organ (Image credit: at the end)

This process is facilitated by abiotic factors (wind, water) or by biotic factors such as animals (insects, mammals, birds, etc.).  These animals are known as pollinators. They receive ‘rewards’ for their ‘service’ in the form of nectar and/or pollen grains. Their ‘service’ (i.e., the transfer of gametes) leads to fertilization and subsequent regeneration of plants through seed formation. The flower and its pollinator(s) form a mutualistic interaction and in most cases, extinction of either of the partners may result in the extinction of both. The specificity of the interaction and the lack of mobility of plants have resulted in the flowers having to evolve a number of mechanisms to attract pollinators in order to maximize their reproductive output.

Just like how you are attracted to a certain store on the street with bright colorful lights or smell out

Pollinators_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4
Fig 2. (a) Wolffia spp. and (b) Rafflesia arnoldii (Image credit: at the end)

the delicious fritters shop at the road corner, the pollinators recognize flowers from afar thanks to the brilliant colors, the fragrant odors, the shapes, sizes and forms or just the arrangement of flowers in a plant. Also called advertising factors, these physical features of a flower mostly aid in long-range recognition. Have you noticed how you can immediately spot a hibiscus, rose or a tulip from far? Pollinators do the same! While some plants have large flowers like previously mentioned, some other plants have large clusters of small flowers that collectively draw attention of the pollinators (e.g.: May Flower, Ixora). Certain pollinators are also capable of identifying locations of flowers from the odors they emit, just like how you recognize the presence of jasmine or lavender just by their fragrance! But have you ever wondered why flowers occur in so many sizes? The smallest flower Wolffia spp. is less than 1/42 of an inch and the largest flower Rafflesia arnoldii is about 3m in diameter (Fig. 2)! Interestingly, the difference in sizes is also an adaptation that restricts non-pollinators of larger sizes than that of the pollinators’ from visiting the flower. Why shouldn’t non-pollinators visit the flowers? They consume the nectar (reward) without performing pollination and are therefore ‘robbers’. The restriction ensures the conservation of nectar for the true pollinators! Structural adaptations are another way of conserving nectar for true pollinators. Flowers such as jasmine or periwinkle have a green stalk which is actually an extension of the petal. The nectar glands and the sex organs of the flower are housed within the stalk and are inaccessible to non-pollinators. A classic example of structural adaptation is from the Darwin’s Star Orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale). This flower has a corollary tube of 30cm length at the base of which nectar glands are present. This is virtually inaccessible to other insects with short tongues such as bees, flies and even some butterflies and moths. When Darwin first saw it in 1862, he predicted the existence of a moth with a proboscis (tongue) long enough to not only access the nectar at the bottom of the tube but also pollinate the flower in the process (Fig. 3). A description of the moth (Xanthopan morganii) was made 21 years after the demise of Darwin by Baron Rothschild and Karl Jordan, but was only first spotted in 1992!

Angraecum sesquipedale_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4
Fig. 3. An illustration of the Angraecum sesquipedale- Xanthopan morganii interaction by Alfred Russel Wallace, 1867 (Image credit: at the end )

Flowers have also adapted to exploit the pollinators’ vision and olfactory senses. For example, flowers pollinated by bees are mostly blue or yellow in color since bees can easily identify and are attracted to these colors. Butterflies on the other hand are equipped with wider range of color vision (in fact, wider than humans!). As an additional measure, some flowers possess nectar guides, a contrasting pattern on the petals that indicates the location of nectar glands in the flower. Interestingly, some flowers have gone a step ahead in using the UV vision in bees: flowers such as Mimulus and the evening primrose have nectar guides that are visible only under UV light! (Fig. 4a,b). Such unique adaptations can also be seen in flowers pollinated by flies. Dull looking flowers with strong pungent/putrid odors and reduced floral structures attract flies and are a characteristic feature of fly-pollinated flowers. The famous King of fruits, the mango and the fragrant sandalwood are pollinated by flies!

There are nocturnal pollinators as well! Bats, Slender Loris and moths are among the famous dark knights of the pollination kingdom. Nocturnal flowers are generally pale or white colored (easily identifiable in the dark due to higher reflective property of white color) with copious amounts of nectar and high fragrance (you must’ve surely smelt the Raat ki Rani or the Brahmakamala at night; can you now guess the purpose of these far-reaching fragrances?). Including wild bananas, bats are known to pollinate over 500 species of plants. While bats use their echo-location technique to identify flower locations, the Loris depends on its night vision and olfactory senses.

Pollination___CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4
Fig. 4. (a) Thespesia populnea with nectar guides, (b) Mimulus flower under white light (naked human vision) vs. flower under UV light (Image credit: at the end )
Rangoon creeper_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4
Fig. 5. Pre- and post-pollinated flowers in Rangoon creeper (Image credit: at the end )

The moth – Rangoon creeper association is a beautiful example of both nocturnal pollination and pollinator energy conservation strategy in flowers. The fragrant flowers of the Rangoon creeper bloom late in the evening and are erect and white in color. The moth locates these flowers using its night-vision and olfactory senses, pollinates the flowers and accesses the nectar with its long proboscis. Now, the magic happens: the pollinated flower slowly bends and becomes pendulous and simultaneously turns red (Fig. 5). To the next visiting moth, the visibility and the accessibility of these ‘changed’ flowers are reduced, thus preventing the moth from ‘wasting’ its energy on flowers that do not have nectar.

The timing and duration of flowering as well as number of flowers are also phenological adaptive strategies adopted by some plants. Bamboo and Strobilanthes follow such a once-in-a-lifetime mass flowering strategy. Even as flowers try filtering out non-pollinators, there are equally smart insects who cheat (or just eat) flowers. A few such instances are as follows:

Nectar robbing: A flower’s worst nightmare is to lose its most important and costliest (in energy

Bee accessing nectar_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4
Fig. 6. Bee accessing nectar illegally (Image credit: at the end )

currency) attracting agent, i.e., nectar to a non-pollinator. While small insects like thrips, beetles, small flies and bees enter large flowers and rob the nectar, small flowers are accessed ‘illegally’ (from outside of the flower) (Fig. 6) or even ripped apart by comparatively larger insects in an effort to access the nectar glands. Flowers have, to some extent, learnt to restrict nectar robbing by varying the composition or addition of distasteful substances (some flowers contain alkaloids in nectar that deters most non-pollinators from foraging).

Florivory: Florivory is the consumption of parts of flowers by insects that can potentially make flowers unappealing to pollinators thereby reducing reproductive output of the flowers. Common florivores include bugs, beetles, birds and thrips.

Predators that deter pollinators:

Visiting pollinators and other herbivores make flowers a fantastic source of insect preys! Predators commonly use floral color as a camouflage. The crab spider Misumena vatia (Fig. 7a) uses the milkweed flowers as a camouflage for the pollinators – honeybees and the bumblebees. After the pollinator spends considerable amount of time foraging for nectar, the spider attacks and captures its prey. Another example is of the Arum frog (Hyperolius horstockii) (Fig. 7b) which adapts to the pale color of the Arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) making it nearly indistinguishable for the insects visiting the flower. Ambush bugs (Phymata americana) also linger around white or yellow colored flowers on the look-out for insects and even spiders! True to their name, they ‘ambush’ their prey and inject saliva that paralyzes the prey. But have you ever heard of a prey actively choosing to go to the predator? An anomaly of sorts to the camouflage tactic was studied on the flowers of Spathiphyllum plants. Crab spiders (Thomisus spp.) were observed to attract bees and other hymenopterans by exploiting their UV vision! The body of the crab spiders is capable of reflecting UV light. The spiders actively choose non-UV reflective flower backgrounds such that the UV contrast increases thereby making it more visually attractive — bees were found to visit flowers with crabs in greater frequency than flowers without crabs!

Predators that deter pollinators_CEiBa
Fig. 7. (a) Misumena vatia and (b) Hyperolius horstockii (Image credit: at the end )

All these adaptations are the result of millions of years of evolution. Even as flowers seem to have excelled at reproducing effectively, the climate fluctuations over the last few years and the changing landscape have had adverse effects on these mutualistic interactions. This is because the timing of biological activities of flowers and their pollinators are primarily dependent on the prevailing environmental temperatures. However, recent fluctuations in temperature are causing asynchrony between floral and pollinator(s) activities leading to reduced reproductive fitness of both. Higher temperature variation and the low density of conspecific flowers further impedes pollination in urban landscapes. The reason that your terrace farming was unsuccessful could simply be this (Of course, tomatoes, potatoes and greens might have been successful, but this is because tomato is self-pollinated, and parts of potato (storage tuber) and greens (leaves) consumed are not a product of pollination). Further, the ill effects of pollution on pollinators were documented by a recent study from NCBS, Bengaluru by Dr. Geeta Thimmegowda and team. Irregularities in pollinators’ (mainly bees) health, particularly in the circulatory systems were higher in areas with higher pollution. Unlike pollinators from lower polluted areas whose bodies were covered mostly with pollen grains, pollinators from highly polluted areas were covered with particulate matter and metal shards which hampered their flight. Adding to this, pollution by organic pollutants and diesel exhaust degrade flower volatile compounds thereby negatively impacting long range recognition by pollinators. Expanding urban areas also results in habitat loss leading to reduced populations of both plants and pollinators.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in addition to their appearances we ‘beholders’ have to learn to appreciate the beauty of the struggles of the flowers too!

References:

  1. Bhaskara RM, Brijesh CM, Ahmed S and Borges RM (2009) Perception of ultraviolet light by crab spiders and its role in selection of hunting sites. Journal of Comparative Physiology 195: 409–417.
  1. Chaudhary OP and Chand R (2017) Economic benefits of animal pollination to Indian agriculture. Indian Journal of Agricultural Sciences 87: 1117–1138. 
  1. Morse DH (1986) Predatory risk to insects foraging at flowers. Oikos 223–228. 
  1. Thimmegowda GG, Mullen S, Sottilare K, Sharma A, Mohanta SS, Brockmann A, Dhandapany PS, and Olsson SB (2020) A field-based quantitative analysis of sublethal effects of air pollution on pollinators. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117: 20653–20661. 

Image credit: 

  1. Mesumina vataia: ©Kjetil Fjellheim, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64270252
  2. Hyperolius horstockii: ©Serban Proches – http://calphotos.berkeley.edu, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6696127 
  3. Mimulus floral guide: ©Plantsurfer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3683900 
  4. Thespesia populnea: ©Filo gèn' – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61250299 
  5. Wolffia spp. : ©Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=398351 
  6. Nectar robbing: ©Marvin Smith – originally posted to Flickr as Eastern Carpenter Bee, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7888211 
  7. Rafflesia arnoldii : ©ma_suska, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1981558 
  8. Angraecum sesquipedale- Xanthopan morganii illustration: ©Thomas William Wood (1833–82)[1][2]; Chromolithographer: M & N Hanhart (floruit 1839–82)[3] – Wallace, Alfred Russel (October 1867). "Creation by Law". The Quarterly Journal of Science 4 (16): p. 470. London: John Churchill & Sons. Retrieved on 2009-07-30., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6250323 
  9. Combretum indicum: ©Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6152225

About Author:

Madhupreeta Muralidhar_The world of flowers_CEiBa

 

 

 

Madhupreeta Muralidhar
University of Ottawa
E-mail: madhupreeta.murali@gmail.com

 

Wild uncultivated edible plants of India

Physalis minima L.
Family: Solanaceae

Physalis minima or little gooseberry is one of the common plants in agricultural fields and rural roadsides. Considered as a weed, this herbaceous member has wider culinary acceptance among the tribes of Southern India. Communities like, Toda, Kota, Kurumba, Paniya, Irula, Badaga and Lambanis use the leafy shoot as vegetable in different forms viz., boiled with spices, cooked with tubers (potato), etc. Similarly, fruit is consumed in both unripe and ripe forms. Unripe fruits are tangy in taste suitable for pickle, while ripe fruits are sweet in taste and widely popular among the wandering forest dwellers. The edible value of the plant is widely accepted in the southern Western Ghats, Nilgiri mountains, Tamil Nadu and Deccan plateau. In the north-east, especially in the upper Assam both leafy shoots and fruits are well accepted among the peoples of Shan tribe. While leafy shoots are eaten in boiled forms fruits are consumed directly. Nutritional assessment of the fruits shows that it is a good source of vitamins (A and C) and minerals like phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron. Recent studies on leafy shoots and roots detected the presence of Withasteroids (a group of phytochemicals) important for preventing the growth of tumours in human body. Despite its nutritional potential the plant is yet to be accepted in mainstream culinary network, though kitchen garden enthusiasts have started procuring and sharing the seeds online.

Physalis_Wild Food_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4

 

 Pithecellobium dulce (Roxb.) Benth.
Family: Fabaceae

The tree is very common across India and is called as Madras thorn. It is popularly known as Jungle jilebi in Hindi, and Kodukka puli in the Southern part of India. The fruit resembles a coiled bean with black seeds. The edible part is the fleshy covering (known as aril) on the seeds with a sweet-sour taste. Geographically the culinary tradition is spread across southern, central and eastern Indian regions. The seeds and pulp are pounded together to make a sweet drink in the rural areas. In some areas the seeds are roasted and powdered and used as a spice for cooking. In Jharkhand, tender leaves and shoots are eaten as vegetables by the Santal tribes. The fruit and seeds are rich in vitamins, essential amino acids and minerals. Considering the recent surge of interest on uncultivated foods, there are few attempts to use the sweet aril of the seed in the preparation of cakes, candies and desserts.

Pithecellobium_Wild Food_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4

 

Plantago asiatica  L. 
Family: Plantaginaceae

A common roadside plant with attractive broad leaves, the species is popular among the peoples of north-east Indian states. The culinary culture is well established in Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The boiled stem and leaves are taken directly or with rice and other vegetables. In Nagaland, leaves are cooked with rice to prepare Gapa Galho. In Manipur, the leaves are cooked as Eromba or with other vegetables.

Plantago_Wild Food_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4

 

Polygonum molle (Blume) D. Don
Family – Polygonaceae

The plant is a native of the Himalayas ,but naturalized or cultivated in the Nilgiri tracts of the Western Ghat. It is more of a temperate weed with high oxalic acid content. The culinary practice with this plant is widely distributed in the Himalayan states of the country. The leaves can be cooked well before consuming to reduce the oxalic acid content. Young shoots are cooked to make side dishes along with other spices. As the entire plant has an astringent property, care should be taken in consuming the plant parts. The leaves are cooked with other herbs for the mild acidic taste. In Arunachal Pradesh, Nyishi tribes consume the raw tender stems and it is known as Bongkung. The ripe fruits are sweet and taken directly. In Manipur, it is a local delicacy especially in summer season, commonly known as Tharam.  It is usually cooked and taken with dried fish, meat and fermented soya bean. In Sikkim, the tender parts of the plant are eatable and a common ingredient for pickles. The practice is available in West Bengal too especially across Himalayan foothill area. Young tender stem and leaves are directly consumed or used in salad/chutney preparation. Similarly,in the Western Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, tender shoots are used for quenching thirst. Despite widespread use among the indigenous communities the plant is yet to be introduced in the mainstream food sector.

Polygonum_Wild Food_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4

Contributors: Avik Ray, Rajasri Ray, Sreevidya EA

Glimpses Of Nature And Culture

Aam-aadmi (The Mango people)

“Mango” word itself is one of the identifiers of India. This magical word entangles with countlessAam-aadmi_The Mango people_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4 stories, history, innumerable local landraces, sprawling economy, and regional competition, a summary formed of diverse social-cultural and economic network. Let’s listen to a great live story of “Migration for Mango” that cuts across international border. Our story starts in the coastal Maharashtra region especially, in Ratnagiri, Raigad, and Sindhudurg districts, famous for Alphonso mango or Hapus. Alphonso is considered the king of Mangoes in the commercial market and, it bears the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the Konkan region of Maharashtra. Alphonso fetches a hefty amount of money, so, a prized possession for the orchard owners. However, like humans, Alphonso attracts monkeys, birds, and other animals, so mango season also a season of alertness for the farmers. Here comes the protector or Rakhwaldar, who takes care of the orchard on behalf of the farmer, and, in the Alphonso orchards, the job is for Nepali and Gorkha people who are seasonal migrants from Nepal. Their duties include, protecting the orchard from the wild animals, mango harvesting, sorting, packing, arranging, and transportation, a long 6-7 months’ affair. It is an approximately 2000 km journey for these Himalayan people to reach coastal Maharashtra from the bordering villages of Nepal. Each year, like our seasonal migratory birds, their journey starts in early to mid-November, passing through the Trinagar customs at the India-Nepal border, get the bus from Palia-Kalan (Uttar Pradesh) to reach Pawas in Ratnagiri. Orchard owners welcome these migrant laborers as cheap manpower with less demand, negotiable price, and worthy of reliance. This 6-7 month-long contractual job offers stable income for these marginalized people which eventually boosts the migration rally to a great extent. Nowadays, approximately 70,000 workers make this possible for their livelihood. On the flip side, no insurance, no medical benefit, no limit for the working hour are part of this mango duty. Over the years, conventional single male migration has been transformed into a whole family movement due to the requirement for essential domestic works like cooking and cleaning. Family migration eases the workload to some extent and assures some extra income but, instability still exists like kids’ education, adjustment with the local culture, language, etc. Despite all odds the migrant workers silently humming around the mango orchards to save the prized possession of the country. Like a true king, Alphonso of India ties a friendly knot with Nepal.
Image: Indian Express
Collector: Rajasri Ray

 

Sustainability in space

Satellites are now a part of our lifestyle. Our communication life viz., social media, television, computer Sustainability in space_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4 is entirely dependent on them. There are currently ~6000 of them in space to tap the potential of the space communication system. However, a good percentage (nearly 60%) of these space machines are non-functional thus, creating space junk. Defunct satellites whole or their fragments (generated due to collision among the satellites) are a great source of danger for active satellites and pollution in space. Still, we are expecting new batches to enter in space duties in coming years, therefore, increment in space junk. Despite having initiatives like optimization of compactness, alternative fuel use, etc. a comfortable level of sustainable practice is yet to be achieved.

Recently, one ambitious project has been announced from Kyoto University (Japan) jointly with Sumitomo Forestry (a logging company) to launch a wooden satellite in space to reduce the quantum of space junk. The proposed advantages are – they would have burned up without throwing out harmful chemicals in the outer space or raining debris on the Earth, wood is electromagnetic wave friendly so, act as a protection for antenna or other valuable instruments and cost-effective. The satellite may make its space debut in 2023 if everything runs well. However, the mission is full of challenges like, how the wood will be seasoned to reduce the internal moisture, what type of wood will be appropriate for use, the kind of design, etc. Whatever will be the result, the attempt to introduce sustainability beyond the Earth is something worthy for all of us.

Source and Image: BBC news, 29th December 2020
Collector: Rajasri Ray  

 

The Mazri Palm – a culturally and economically tree – even porcupines love them!

Mazri Palm_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4
Handicrafts made up of Mazri palm. (a) Hot pot. (b) Salt pot. (c) Mat for beds. (d) Mat for vehicles. (e) Prayer mat for one individual. (f) Prayer mat for group of individuals. (g) Small broom. (h) Large broom. (i) Hand fan. (j) Shoes for common use. (k) Large basket. (l) Middle-size basket. (m) Large-size flat basket. (n) Basket used in hotels. (o) Cover for animal mouth. (p) Bags for packing grasses. (q) Packing bags for sweets. (r) Hat. (s) Grain bin. (t) Ropes. (u) One-seater small bed. (v) Cot or bed stead. (w) Ornamental plant. (x) Lad. (y) Fuel. (z) Toothbrushes. (aa) Fruit of Mazri palm. (ab) Seeds of Mazri palm used as marbles. (ac and ad) Artisans weaving ropes from Mazri leaves in Dera

The Mazri Palm, Nannorrhops ritchiana, is historically entwined with the cultural and economic lives of the locales of Pakistan and adjacent states. The tree is one of the widely distributed native palm species of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Almost every part of the plant is usable and the products are equally diverse. The tough fibre obtained from leaves and stems serves as fine raw material for making a variety of household items like mats,  fences, house roofing, and other handicrafts such as hand fans, baskets, brooms, trays, storage boxes, hats, and sandals. The diversity of the handicraft is also astounding; it tends to vary with the cultural geographic regions. The other plant parts are no less important, while the fresh fruits are edible, seeds are for manufacturing rosaries. Similarly, the dried parts of the plant are often used as Fuelwood and the reddish mossy wool of the petioles is utilized as tinder.

So, quite understandably has been its remarkable role in the livelihood of the local people that caused its over-harvesting for domestic and commercial needs and rapid decline of viable populations. In some places (such as in Hazar Nao Forest of Malakand region), the plant is reported to be on the verge of extinction due to overuse for commercial purposes. Regionally, it has been categorized as Endangered (EN) under the IUCN criteria. Hence, realizing its cultural and economic importance, the Government of Pakistan enacted the conservation of Nannorrhops in Pakistan in general and specifically in the Kohat Division (southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).

Perhaps, its ecological significance has also been so overriding that its decline left mark on the other non-humans. Rapid erosion of its viable population kept the lives of other dependent fauna at stake. One of the key species affected is the Indian porcupine (Hystrix indica) which is endangered in the region. It grazes on the roots and leaves of Nannorrhops for food mostly in the lean winter. It is also joined by a species of a black bear that seemed to have disappeared in the recent past. Perhaps, many more visible and invisible faunal members have been in the list of the disturbed that direly necessitated the need for conservation and sustainable management of the palm tree in and around its native range. The threats remained largely undocumented, however. The conservation and sustainability initiative could restore its past biological and cultural glory. The story of the Mazri Palm once again reiterates the dilemma of human resource use and overuse and its impact on ecosystem health and function.

Image courtesy:  Khan et al. 2020. Mazri (Nannorrhops ritchiana (Griff) Aitch.): a remarkable source of manufacturing traditional handicrafts, goods and utensils in Pakistan. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 16, 45 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-020-00394-0
Collector: Avik Ray

 

With boreholes, Pests in Prehistory, yes, indeed!

Agricultural pests, borers, suckers, hoppers, leaf-cutters or eaters, rotting-promoters, root-destroyers……. are ubiquitous today, from staple crops to non-staples to cash crops, they are

Grain weevil and pea weevil_CEiBa_Vol3_Issue4
(a) Grain weevil and (b) pea weevil

omnipresent. They make headlines quite often. They do appear in many avatars, from insects to molluscs to bacteria or fungi. Every now and then they wreak havoc in the agricultural systems causing major economic damage and raising farmers’ woes and worries. So are pesticides, fungicides, or larvicides, and their rampant application around the world, somewhere it is more whereas less in other places. Moreover, their unregulated and over-use is worrisome, and that has been a concern in many developing or developed countries.

Indeed, pests have been co-evolving with their host plants over their periods of biological evolution but may not have emerged as a menace. But, what about their threats in history or even further back in time, i.e., prehistory? It may not be of a similar scale and extent as modern times, but pests did have ancient links. Though scant, many of the stories of infestation go back to prehistory. It is where archaeologists have a larger role to play – they have been painstakingly unearthing hidden records of ravages by pests and joining the jigsaw pieces to tell us the pest stories from the distant past.

There are many such examples in the Neolithic, either in cereals or pulses, e.g., the marks of grain weevil or Sitophilus zeamais/oryzae on 9000 year-old potsherds have been discovered. Cases of wheat weevil (Sitophilus granarius) infestation in south-west Asia as well in Neolithic Europe; however, they are said to have largely disappeared around 4500 BC and only returned during the Iron Age. On the other hand, the earliest pest-infestation of fava beans displaying boreholes has been identified in Catalonia, Spain. The presence of pea weevil has also been detected in Switzerland.

Well, were the farmers aware of the pest attack? Yes, say the experts. So, what did they do to deal with this? They used to discard the infested seeds and offer those to animals as fodder. They even co-grown trap crops or insect repellent plants to ward off the pests, presumably.

Well, this may be a thin and small slice from the larger story. More research on this front can unveil remarkable facts about crop damage faced by our ancestors and how they might have responded to this crisis. Or was that really a crisis? Knowing its nitty-gritty could help us to find out the trajectory of our cropping systems, their pitfalls and resilience.

Image courtesy: By Sarefo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2900877; By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35486312
Collector: Avik Ray