• Tue. Oct 3rd, 2023

Millets in the spotlight – How Odisha’s Kutia Kondh clan found a taste for ‘poor man’s meal’

ByJosh Taylor

Nov 25, 2022

“Children eagerly eat small millet khichdi,” says Ispari Dani, an anganwadi worker in Koraput’s Lakhimpur block’s Goudaguda panchayat.
As part of the Odisha Millets Mission, a flagship initiative created by the state to resuscitate millets in tribal regions here, 3,751 preschool children aged 3 to 6 years are given tiny millet khichdi twice a week in Lakhimpur. In partnership with the Mission Shakti Department, the project also offered millets-based recipes to anganwadi centres.
Millets were once thought to be a poor man’s diet. “However, even the government has recognised its health advantages,” Dani says, hoping that the younger generation would recognise the nutritional significance of this cereal crop.
Adivasi women play an important role in bringing millets-based dishes into schoolchildren’s lunches in order to combat malnutrition and promote dietary diversity among preschool children. The necessity for such a programme originates from the state’s appalling nutrition among children — according to the National Family Health Survey-5, 2019, over 69% of children in Odisha.
Similarly, 33.5% of children aged 5 are underweight, 43.1% are stunted, and 15.9% are wasted. Over 44% of children in Koraput district, where the project has been implemented, are underweight, 40.6% are stunted, and 28.5% are wasted.
The return of tribalism
Koraput, located in the Eastern Ghats, is home to various indigenous people and a unique tapestry of ethnic life and culture. Over half of its population is made up of Scheduled Tribes, who rely mostly on rainfed agriculture and the collecting of uncultivated wild food and forest produce for a living.
Mono-cropping and the use of chemical inputs to increase crop output have degraded the rich agro-biodiversity that was previously plentiful in tribal hinterlands. As a result, the area under millet cultivation shrank, forcing tribes to substitute hybrid rice, maize, and cotton for climate-resilient, nourishing traditional crops. The public distribution of rice and wheat also reduced the relevance of local food culture and tastes, while the effect of metropolitan food reduced desire for local cuisine, particularly among young people.
“These days, the diet of tribal children is not appropriately diversified and has instead become cereal-centric,” says Bidyulata Patra, District Social Welfare Officer of Koraput.
Children from 0 to 6 years require special care since the nutrition they get at this age creates the groundwork for their healthy growth. During this stage, a lack of a healthy, balanced diet may have long-term health consequences and raise the chance of a kid becoming undernourished and susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies.
Food for the poor
Millets lost their prominence for a variety of reasons. Tribals, particularly the younger generation, thought they were looked down upon for eating millets, which are considered poor man’s food. Furthermore, harvesting the grain proved difficult. Millet dehusking required tough labour. People did not produce more than what they needed for their own use since there was no market for the harvest.
Volunteers viewed the Burlang Yatra as an opportunity to strategize the regeneration of millets. The Burlang Yatra is a traditional yearly festival of the Kutia Kondh tribe in which the community, particularly the women, pray and share seeds at the hamlet via a joyful form of songs and dances.

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