Giji K. Raman
Ragi, locally known as ‘keppa,’ has a traditional link with the food habits of tribespeople, especially the Muthuvans.
When its cultivation was taken up under the livelihood programme of the tribespeople of Thayannankudy in the remote forest settlement of the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, it turned out to be a huge group activity.
The ragi field on 17 hectares of land will be ready for harvest by October. It’s for the first time that ragi cultivation has been undertaken by all the 38 families of the settlement, on the banks of the Chinnar river.
The experimental cultivation of paddy on the same field last season prompted the forest authorities to support the group cultivation of ‘keppa.’ A sum of Rs.50,000 was given to the Eco-Development Committee (EDC) for starting the cultivation, said a senior official of the Anaimudi Forest Development Agency (AFDA).
Bio-fencing with citrus cultivation and solar fencing have been provided to protect the crop from wild animals.
Thayannankudy will soon market an organic ragi brand through the eco-shops of Chinnar, Marayur, Alampatty, and Rajamala, said a Forest Department official.
The supply of ragi will be the surplus after internal consumption. Chinnar wildlife warden G. Prasad said there were 11 forest settlements in the sanctuary and each of them had separate EDC implementing livelihood programmes, especially through group farming activities.
However, as for the largest area of keppa cultivation, Thayannankudy makes a difference, he said.
A member of the Thayannankudy EDC said though farmers had cultivated ragi on the mountain slopes individually, it was now an entire paddy filed turned to ragi cultivation.
The tribespeopel have their on cuisine of ragi such as ‘uppumavu,’ which was once their staple food. A senior tribal member said they had deviated from the cultivation of keppa due to many reasons. The change in the food habit had made them more disease-prone and ill healthy. It is a return to their own food habit, he said.
Giji K. Raman