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Home > News > PTI

Tsunami alters tribal food habits

Subhra Priyadarshini in Port Blair | December 20, 2005 13:17 IST
Last Updated: December 20, 2005 14:42 IST

The tsunami has robbed them of their paddy fields, but gifted them a more balanced food palate complete with vegetables and fruits, something the meat eating tribals in Andaman and Nicobar were traditionally alien to.

For the first time, tribal islands like the Nancowrie group are excited over brinjals, beans and papayas in their daily diet -- not because their taste buds have dramatically changed after the tsunami, but because they have found friendlier substitutes for paddy on large tracts of saline land.

"They have traditionally been complete non-vegetarians -- eating only fish, pork and meat. But inter-cropping with coconut plantation by scientists in these lands after the tsunami has exposed them to a variety of vegetables, which they didn't know existed," says Chief Secretary of the islands D S Negi.

Besides coconut seedlings and pigs, the tribals are taking keenly to a whole range of vegetables. "Travelling through the reclaimed land one can see that the only vegetables they don't grow today are potatoes, onions and tomatoes. But they grow all the other vegetables. The land is so fertile. I got a huge papaya as a gift in July from a farmer in Teressa," Negi says of the mini agricultural revolution in the islands.

The new diet has gone down well with the tribals who are beginning to appreciate the rejuvenating effects of a protein- vitamin balance in their food. "They also get a return on their money, which is another plus," Negi said.

Under a central scheme, Rs 235 crore will be pumped into agricultural development -- reclamation of saline land, organic fertilizers, power tillers, construction of embankments and wells -- in the next two years.

Negi says the 'grow more vegetables' drive will be undertaken on a sustained basis to change the farming practices and mindsets of the tribals.

"We are also taking up plantation of 60,000 cashew nut trees in the Nancowrie group. It is highly suitable for wild cashews," Negi said.

The tsunami has, on the flip side, brought a farming revolution to the islands. The Central Agricultural Research Instituteand the Central Institute of Brackish Waterhave jointly drawn an ambitious blueprint for brackish water aquaculture in the islands where over 11,000 hectares of land have been rendered waste due to high levels of salt deposition.

A team of scientists from the Indian Council of Agriculture Researchhad surveyed the devastated agricultural land in the archipelago days after the tsunami to infer that it was not the wave fury alone, but the recurrent high tide inundations after that which had spelt doom for agricultural land.

Farming of shrimps, mud crab, milkfish, mullet and sea bass have been suggested as effective replacements for the land gone bad.

Soil salinity was estimated to have increased by three times in over 68 villages across the islands. Poor drainage in coconut and arecanut groves had led to yellowing of the leaves meaning poor yields for the next two years. Over 81,500 cattle heads were killed as buffaloes, goats, pigs and popultry were washed away in the waves.

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