In order to combat malnutrition, tribals in ten villages of Chincholi and Ghoradongri block of Betul district — about 200 km from Bhopal — are cultivating expensive nuts like cashew and almonds without any assistance from the government.
For the past five years, the Korku and Gond tribes of the district have been carrying out the cultivation at two locations of 300 acre each, in Chincholi and Ghoradongri block.
The villagers say that they took the step to save themselves from deaths linked to malnutrition and hunger. “Fruit-giving trees in jungles are our biggest source of food, but the numbers of such trees are reducing. Forest area is shrinking and children of our community are deprived of local fruits such as Amla, Bel, Baheda, Harra, and Mango which have great nutritional value,” said Sumarlal, of the Korku tribe, who lives in Markadhana village.
Madhya Pradesh is among one of the worst-affected states in the country in terms of malnutrition. The tribal population in the state is also more prone to malnutrition. According to the Rapid Survey on children (2013-14) conducted by the Union ministry of women and child development, 41.5% children suffer from stunted growth and 36.1% children were found underweight.
The tribes got into the business of growing dry fruits by utilising the earnings they made from growing fruits such as mangoes and amla. Some also worked as agricultural labourers before taking to growing dry fruits.
“We want to educate our children about the importance of forest and trees. This initiative of growing fruit-giving trees will definitely spread the message of forest conservation among our future generations. Our children, who previously suffered from malnutrition and hunger, will get better food,” said Bindia, a resident of Markadhana village.
Recently, the villagers also took out a rally ‘Hariyali Kanwad Yatra’, in Chincholi village of Betul district to spread the message of protecting trees.
“Everyone knows about the problem of deaths due to malnutrition and hunger amongst tribals. Fruit-giving trees, which were the main source of food for them are vanishing and the initiative of our organisation with the slogan “Bhukmari Mitayenge, Paryavaran Bachayenge” helped several tribal families to opt for horticulture,” said Anurag Modi of Samajwadi Jan Parishad, Madhya Pradesh.
“This has drastically improved their financial conditions. Now they are going ahead with new experiments like growing cashew nuts and almonds,” he added.