It is early morning in Dhepagudi, a sleepy hamlet nestled in the green hills of Odisha, India. Admai Kumruka is sifting millet in a traditional sieve made of bamboo strips. Children mill around, playing on a mud and sand mound. A few huts down, Rello Dindika is sorting through harvested corn. A group of women are chopping fresh pumpkin leaves and flowers for a stir-fry dish. They have finished morning chores and farming work and are now preparing breakfast. Some of the corn will be ground to a powder for a wholesome porridge. The rest will be popped in clay vessels for evening snacks.
“We have mandya or kosla [varieties of millets] or maka [corn] porridge in the mornings sometimes with roots and tubers or gondri saag [a variety of greens] foraged from the jungles,” Kumruka says. “In the afternoons and evenings, we make rice with tubers, vegetables and legumes. Sometimes we add wild mushrooms or jhotta [okra] and holud [turmeric roots].”
The women belong to the Khond community, a large indigenous tribal group of India that has relied for generations on a rich and diverse variety of native millets and foraged jungle foods. That is, until the state forest department proposed that forest lands be cleared for cash crops like teak, eucalyptus, soy, and cotton.