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Tribal woman becomes brand ambassador of millet

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Tribal woman becomes brand ambassador of millet

The Baiga woman leads a simple life with her old parents in a two-room mud house in her village that has no network connectivity...

Tribal woman becomes brand ambassador of millet

Your Right To InfoAK Singh

Lahari Bai, a Baiga tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh, was declared the brand ambassador for the ‘International Year of The Millet’. So far, she has conserved over 150 varieties of rare millet seeds in her beej (seed) bank. She belongs to the Baiga (healer) tribal community, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) in Madhya Pradesh. It is believed that the people from this tribe possess a deep knowledge of their environment and its biodiversity, which they pass on from one generation to the next through oral traditions. Inspired by her grandma’s words, Lahari, who hails from the remote village of Silpadi in the Dindori district, started collecting seeds at the age of 18 years. She continues to collect the seeds even now from forests and farms by wandering in nearby villages. “Collecting seeds makes me happy. People would mock me and ask why was I collecting seeds. So, at times, I would go when no one was around,” Lahari tells us in her native language Baiga, adding that the elderly people in her community help her recognise the indigenous varieties of seeds.

Millet is a storehouse of nutrition, rich in protein, fibre, and abundant vitamins. Their consumption helps protect cardiovascular health, prevent diabetes, and lose weight. The tribal woman, who never went to school, understood the importance of conserving these seeds long ago. “These are taakat wala anaaj (the powerhouse of nutrition). People do not get sick after their regular consumption. It saves them from the expense of medicines,” she says. For the past decade, the 27-year-old has collected more than 150 varieties of rare millet including kodo, kutki, sikiya, salhar, sawa, and chena. “These native seeds are getting extinct. I want to bring them back in use,” she says. She distributes these millet seeds to farmers for cultivation. In return, they gift her a small part of the produce after they harvest the crop. For instance, for a kilogram of seeds that she offers, the farmers gift her 1.5 kg of seeds back of the same variety. She says that she does not do this to earn money but to collect more seeds.

Lahari also uses these seeds to make pej (a kind of drink) from kodo and kutki seeds. She drinks it along with takodey ki bhaji (forest vegetable). The Baiga woman leads a simple life with her old parents in a two-room mud house in her village that has no network connectivity. The family uses one room as the living room and kitchen. Their clothes are hung on a wooden pin in one corner, and in another corner is a chulha (stove) arranged along with a few utensils and all their belongings. The second room of the mud house is dedicated to storing varieties of millet seeds. Lahari has many large mud containers with the names of different seed varieties printed on them in her beej (seed) bank. A variety of millet seeds that look decorative also hang from the roof. Apart from distributing these seeds for free, Lahari does labour jobs and sells forest produce and firewood for a living. She manages to earn up to Rs 3,000 a month.

Becoming an ambassador for millet

This year, the Indian government is striving to make India a global hub of millet cultivation and research. During the union budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also referred to millets as Shree Ann — the mother of all grains. “I met her one morning when I was on one of my regular tours to rural areas. I was impressed by her dedication to conserving millet seeds. Two months ago in December, when the Government of India was making plans to lead the ‘International Year of the Millet’ initiative, we decided to choose Lahari Bai as the brand ambassador,” District Collector Vikas Mishra tells us. On choosing the tribal woman as chief guest, the District Collector says: “The people from this primitive community have extensive knowledge about the environment. Half of the kodo kutki (millet) production is done by the Baiga community. Lahari is very enthusiastic about her work. Her beej bank is praiseworthy,” says Vikas, who is also promoting millet by organising cookery shows, where women make cakes, pastries, and biscuits from millet, and also process them into healthy soups. He has nominated Lahari for a Rs 10 lakh scholarship from a Jodhpur-based ICAR. “If she succeeds in getting this scholarship, she would be seen guiding the PhD students,” he says, adding that the government has also sanctioned a house for her.

Recently, she was invited as a chief guest at the Republic Day parade in Dindori by the District Collector. This was the first time Lahari stood on the stage. “Entire janta (public) was looking at me. It feels so nice to get so much recognition. Now the same villagers who mocked me, get jealous,she says. Post Republic Day, Lahari has given interviews to more than 100 journalists from the state capital of Bhopal and the national capital of New Delhi. Lahari has only two pairs of clothes but dresses up neatly whenever she travels for interviews. Meanwhile, far from materialistic possessions, Lahari says that she aims to further expand her beej bank and serve her old parents. She revealed that all her efforts were towards preserving seeds that were beginning to go extinct. She shared that she collected different seeds from nearby villages, distributed them among the farmers, and waited for them to harvest. Upon harvest, she recollected those seeds, and after years of hard work, she successfully recollected seeds of 16 crops that were on the verge of extinction. In total, she has 30 seeds in her seed bank and working in mission mode for over a decade now. In addition to cultivating the seeds on her farm, she distributed them among the farmers in more than 54 villages. The preserved varieties include kodo millet, sanwa, kutki, and more. Her efforts in saving the millet seeds have resulted in her being nominated for a scholarship at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Jodhpur Centre.

Importance of Shree Ann

Shree Ann or millets are a rich source of protein, fibre, minerals, iron, and calcium and have a low glycemic index. Nutri-cereals are grown in arid and semi-arid tracts under low rainfall (200-600 mm) conditions. These are known for their nutrient-rich content and characteristics like drought tolerance, photo-insensitivity, resilience to climate change, etc. Moreover, its consumption furthers nutrition, food security, and the welfare of farmers. Millets are grown in about 21 states in the country including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana. Further, India is the largest producer and second largest exporter of ‘Shree Ann’ in the world as it grows several types of ‘Shree Anna’ such as jowar, ragi, bajra, kuttu, ramdana, kangni, kutki, kodo, cheena, and sama.

Budget 2023

The Budget of 2023 also focused on millets. It said that to make India a global hub for ‘Shree Ann’, the Indian Institute of Millet Research, Hyderabad will be supported as the Centre of Excellence for sharing best practices, research and technologies at the international level. Further, in 2018, India celebrated the National Year of Millets. With the help of research and development, the government is also popularizing nutri-cereals. It has established three Centres of Excellence (CoE) and also supports start-ups and entrepreneurs in developing recipes and value-added products that promote the consumption of millet.


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