Adivasis or the aboriginal population of India has always lived in close proximity to the jungles. Adivasis are the protectors of our forests. Many densely forested regions, especially in Central India are dominated by these tribes. There’s been an increasing discussion regarding their perceived socio-economic backwardness and lack of basic amenities. While we struggle to solve for the problems of food security and health, it’s also important to understand the Adivasi way of life and their co-dependence on the forests in a better manner for ensuring sustainable and long-term development.
Forests- The Source of Adivasi Food Security
For a lot of Adivasis, forests are the primary sources of livelihood and traditional food. Forest dependent communities have thrived on uncultivated foods including various fruits, vegetables, herbs etc. directly from the forests. Many forest dependent communities and adivasis do not have access to modern health and other basic amenities. They also source essential items such as firewood for cooking and water for all purposes from the forest streams. Basic medicare is scarce, and many of them use traditional knowledge of medicinal herbs from the forests.
In the last year, many forest dependent communities in India came together in a unique food festival showcasing hundreds of varieties of uncultivated forest foods. The communities were very upbeat about sharing their traditional food benefits on a common platform. One of the Adivasi farmers from Odisha shared,
“We eat a lot of good food. About 20-30 dishes are cooked in our kitchen. None of it is poisonous, as the world likes to think. The forest helps us lead a healthy, disease-free life” – Akhil Sabara, an Adivasi from Odisha.
Thinking about Adivasi food security from the lens of sustainability and cultural preservation can allow practitioners to crack the issues of food security using the forests as the ultimate provider.
Communities – Adivasis Are The Protectors of Our Forests
Apart from being a source of their basic needs, the Adivasis and forest dependent communities have a strong emotional connection with the forest. They have often ended up being the protectors of the greens. They have always revered the jungles and tried to prevent deforestation.
According to a report published by Forests trends and Eco-agricultural partners, the role of communities in preserving forests and bio-diversity is clearly stated. Here’s what the report recommends:
Community forest management has therefore been recognized as an essential means to sustainably manage forest resources while supporting local livelihoods and cultural values. This has led to an increasing interest in the role of community forest management that in many situations is more respectful of community rights and assets. Community forestry management is also emerging as more effective in reducing pressures on “wilderness areas” and better at providing compatible means of livelihood to people living within priority biological corridors.
The report further showcases the real impact of forest dependent communities in preserving their ecosystems, stating:
If the current trends in forest tenure continue, some 50% of the developing country forests will be community-owned or -administered by 2015.
Maintaining the traditional symbiotic relationship
Adivasis have been living near the forests for thousands of years, developing a symbiotic relationship with their environment. While they have lagged behind in the development indices- like health and material wealth, they have still lived in close proximity of the forest, in a sustainable manner. Forest-dependent communities have been the protectors of the forests across the world and have played a significant role in maintaining bio-diversity.
The communities are full of traditional wisdom on farming, forest conservation, and multiple varieties of uncultivated food that can help them reduce the persistent threats of food security.
There’s a big opportunity for civil society, social agencies and policy makers to come together and create opportunities and initiatives respecting this unique relationship between the tribes and forests. Initiatives supporting community led farming, sustainable forest conservation, can not only help us protect the bio-diversity of the planet, but also provide sustainable means of forest-led occupations, reduction of absolute poverty and arrest food security and malnutrition in these communities.