Climate is huge determinant of our food choices, taste variations and ingredient contents. We are using fans in the month of November this year which was unthinkable till a few years back. Some of the coldest places in North East India are getting warmer during summers. Cherrapunji in Meghalaya which was the wettest place in the world has become relatively drier over the last few years. Climate affects food cultures, culinary traditions and food production as well. Human tendencies compel to find food which beats the climate variation. People look for cold food during hot summers and warm food during cold winters. Along with such variations in food choices, people also diversify the processing, storage and cooking techniques. Traditional processing techniques of smoking, steaming, pounding, grinding, oiling, sun-drying and pickling are practised thoroughly in the rural and semi-urban pockets of North East India. More and more communities of women are associated in such activities which enable them to collectivise and promote their products in the markets which are either created or which exist in the traditional spaces. When I interviewed a group of women from Self-Help Group from Sataka village of Zuneboto district of Nagaland, they shared how they have understood the value of home grown processing techniques to add value to their farm produce. They participated in a local exhibition in Dimapur to sell their produce. They dried the yam stem; squash pieces, wild berries, nuts and fruits packed them with labels of their SHGs and proudly sold them. Their confidence and enthusiasm in showcasing their produce and sharing the stories of joy in innovation which their parents or grandparents could never think of was commendable. The women’s groups were promoted by the Nagaland Rural Livelihood Mission in different districts of the state. The women also shared how they can prolong the shelf life of some of the products by frying them. According to the Sema tradition, maize, ginger, yam and tapioca are the climate resistant crops which are grown in the fields and also processed in such a way that they are marketed well.
Climate resistant foods are naturally grown through ancestral knowledge and traditional farming practices even in Chakhesang community. Women farmers are most adequately equipped to counter climate variations in the dry land cropping practices in the Phek district of Nagaland. They multiple cropping practice of maize, millets, sesame, pulses, beans, legumes, jobs tear and vegetables like tree tomatoes, bitternut, leafy vegetables keeps the soil fertility intact even during climate variations. Climate variations affect the land use patterns, soil fertility and yield in different parts of the country. Banana and sweet potato are the climate resistant foods which can sustain the communities during climate change according to a 76-year-old farmer from Phek district of Nagaland. Accordingly, food choices, farming practices and even credit facilities for farmers vary. But in the context of Nagaland, close monitoring of farm produce and land use pattern is done by state agencies like ICAR in Porba in Phek district of Nagaland and its neighbouring villages of Nagaland. ICAR Porba has promoted diverse cash crops also for the farmers to be able to sell them in the markets. Their support to the farmers in knowledge sharing, seed promotion, use of bio fertilizers and natural pest management techniques have been very useful.
Rev. Amop from Nagaland Development Organisation shared his thoughts on the climate resistant crops in the Longleng district of Nagaland which represents the Phom community of Nagaland. He shared about Kolhar beans, Maize, Tapioca and Soya bean which can resist climate pressures in his hometown of Longleng district. Rev. Amop also remembered some of the most mouth-watering delicacies of the Phom community which reflects the essence of their rich food traditions. He shared about Anphed which is a mixture of pounded rice, pork, bamboo shoot stem, ginger, garlic, dried yam leaves and Anhao which has pork fat pieces and rice and gets a little watery. His most favourite meal is always complete with Lei or charcoal burnt sausages which contain pounded rice, pork intestines and spices like chillies, mechenga pata and garlic and ginger. Other dishes like Donghao with boiled yam, chicken, chillies and bamboo shoot juice are also some of the most relished dishes in the Phom community food traditions.
Tapioca is another climate resistant food which has evolved from being a fodder crop to a comfort food in the modern context through value addition and marketing linkages. In Ao, Phom, Sema traditions also tapioca holds very significant value as a food crop. According to Mr Amba Jamir, from Sustainable Development Forum of Nagaland (SDFN), tapioca is also a natural weed controller.
Climate resistance is a natural trait for food crops and people adapt to the seasonal choices of fruits, tubers, roots, barks and so on. During the indigenous terra madre this year also the taste innovation workshops also threw light on the availability of wild berries in Austria, red ants in Karnataka and beetle in Arunachal Pradesh as natural and nutritious food choices. Silk worms were also a source of rich protein in diverse climatic conditions. Indigenous communities find their nutritional supplements within their surrounding environment out of circumstances and mostly through living traditions which sustains their natural association with their living environment. Many legends were also shared during this conference about food crops which grew from sky women. Many conservationists debate about the fact that our food choices cannot disrupt the natural food chain and that we need to curb our greed for exotic delicacies. Human beings are also part of the food chain and they can contribute towards maintaining the balance in the food chain as well. “Our excessive use of energy, lavish lifestyles, polluting agents and extractive resource depletion are larger causes of concern than subsistence food choices of indigenous communities living on the edge finding a balance in nature and technological shifts in recent years.” said a community activist in a Naga village when I asked about ecological imbalance. Climate resistance coping practices are best managed by indigenous communities of the world who have struggles for long to revive their lost traditions and never find space in debates around development. In this year’s indigenous terra madre which happened in Meghalaya, one indigenous person from South America commented that the word ‘development’ needs to be replaced with the word ‘regeneration’ because the concept of development is always destructive and devastating and we as the indigenous people of the world cannot afford it. Indeed climate change resistance can be countered best through regeneration not only through development. Food is an integral process of regeneration in that context. Hence my trail for such regenerating food tradition continues through the indigenous food choices of communities.
Samhita Barooah is a Researcher and Travel Writer. This article is written under the aegis of CSE Media Fellowship on Good Food.