Often from perceived notions of power, and learned modernity, Adivasis have been seen as poor and deprived by outsiders. However, Adivasis in India deny that they are poor and challenge this notion. Studies have shown that there is scientific evidence to indicate that the diverse cropping practiced by Adivasi communities is in fact in tune with long-term sustainable approaches. While materialistically seen as poor in comparison with the limitations of the perspectives of a modern society, Adivasis are the custodians of enormous wisdom. Communities hold the shared wealth of deep seated best practices of community living, eco-centric forest management and potential solutions to human-induced climate change.
Challenges faced by Adivasis in India
India houses 104 million of the world’s estimated 370 indigenous tribes. Given their generous and unique living concepts of “community living” with a deep understanding of “community resources” and sharing, communities have often not exercised their land rights. They’ve viewed land as a resource shared by everyone, and believed the forests and natural resources to be saviors, guardians with a spirit that sustains their generations. This viewpoint has often been exploited by the modern society. Data reveals a disturbing trend:
- Proportion of rural Adivasi households that do not own any land has increased from 16 per cent of all Adivasi households in 1987–88 to 24 per cent in 2011–12 (source: Indian census and national sample survey 2009-10/ 2012)
- Adivasi look at forest lands as their means of sustenance key to their lives and culture. This symbiotic loss is not calculated or accounted for, directly leading to serious and often life threatening consequences for indigenous communities.
- Adivasi communities have traditional derived nutrition (and their livelihood) from cultivated and uncultivated crops (representing 35-40% of their food basket). These are often seen as “uneconomic” crops and often have been replaced by monocultures (single cropping) or by cash crops. The long term sustainable viewpoint and wisdom of multi-cropping that has provided the communities a respite from natural (or human-induced) climate changes has been ignored by policy makers as well as proponents of perceived modernity.
- The mainstream models enforced upon the Adivasi communities fail to see the full value of the high bio diversity foods that Adivasi communities make a part of their sustainable living. This has led to severe loss of traditional nutrition sources, almost forcing the communities into malnutrition and health poverty.
- Forest degradation has continued unabated in areas that are traditional Adivasi belts, forcing them to live the consequences of climate change, and lowering bio-diversity. The strongest consequences of these activities have been the increase in food insecurity faced by the communities.
The hope in Adivasi Wealth
The current mainstream food system is based on transitioning farms into monoculture farms for higher production. Advocates of modern chemical intensive agriculture have failed to recognize the multiple benefits and resilience of mixed cropping. The subsistence-oriented economies of the Adivasis in India are seen as unsustainable by current economic criteria, threatening to to compound the problems and displacement of Adivasis farmers.
However it is being recognized worldwide by organic farming experts and consumer alike, that the fate of bio-diversity rests on sustainable farming practices. These put emphasis on linking people’s economy from an all-round symbiotic embedded-ness in the forest ecology. Sustainable practices by Adivasis over generations have strengthened their food security and given them resistance to climate change protecting their livelihoods as well as ecosystems. A sustainable future and the depth of traditional Adivasi wealth, is what we need to really take a deeper look towards.