Adding Colours of Health to the Food Platter

Stepping away from her unhappy marriage brought much relief for Remya, a resident of Vysan Colony of Kottathara panchayat (Wayanad, Kerala). She heaves a sigh of relief after saying “I have mental peace now and this is exactly what I was denied for a long time.”

The 29-year-old tribal woman has no qualms over her decision to separate from her abusive and alcoholic ex-husband. At the same time, she is equally aware of the intensity of the challenge she has taken up. Being a single mother of two little children and the caretaker of her elderly parents, Remya has to toil hard to make ends meet. The only person Remya can fall back on for support is her unmarried older sister. But lack of work opportunities is a challenge for the sisters who are agricultural workers.

“When there is work, we can smoothly manage things at home. But we don’t get enough work in all seasons,” Remya said. She further added, “During off seasons we hardly buy anything. As the government is ensuring free ration of grains and pulses, we will not starve. But there won’t be much money to buy vegetables and other food items,”.

Nutritional deficiency is common among members of tribal communities in Wayanad district and cases of malnourishment, stunting and wasting are high among the community members in general and children in particular. According to Remya, the off-season diet of her six-member family used to be confined to rice (porridge). “If we are buying vegetables for everyday consumption it would cost around Rs 300 a week. This is unaffordable when there is no work. At times, we would make side dishes out of wild leaves collected from the nearby agricultural fields. But that is not a regular practice,” she said. 

Ramya and Vellachi are two of the 400 scheduled tribe families who have benefitted from the support given by IGSSS to establish kitchen gardens. Now, each of these families is cultivating around a dozen veggies in their kitchen garden. This new habit is not only adding more colours to their food platter but the much-needed nutritional requirements. “Now we have home-grown vegetables for daily consumption. My children are happy to eat now as I can offer them a variety of dishes. Moreover, as we don’t need to spend money on buying veggies, we can use it to buy milk or items like egg and meat for the children,” Remya said with a smile.

“It’s for the first time that I am cultivating items like cabbage and beetroot. We got a good harvest. We just watered the plants and used cow dung as manure,” Vellachi said adding that she has preserved the seeds of the veggies to set up a new garden in the next season.

Written by: Divya Nambiar