The first thing you notice about Mukteshwar is the sky. It is clear blue during the day and inky black in the nights, mottled by stars that seem to multiply with every new glance.
For those of you who haven’t read my previous blog post (why?), Gene Campaign, my host organisation, promotes sustainable agriculture in Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh. I’m based in Orakhan village, Nainital district. It has been a little over a month since I started my work here and I still haven’t gotten used to the beauty of this place.
While the skies are breathtaking, something closer to ground has kept me very engaged in the month that I have been here. Some of you might already know what I’m talking about, especially since I incessantly gush about it every opportunity I get. For this, I do not apologise:
Right, so many friends have asked me what I actually do here (besides consuming copious amounts of tea and warding off leopards). The primary focus of my fellowship project with Gene Campaign is to promote millet consumption in Kumaoni villages and create value added products using mountain grains which would eventually be manufactured and marketed by the women farmers of Kumaon. This might seem fairly straightforward to most, but there are many layers to this project which I will delineate in the blog series.
In this blog post, I want to introduce you to the mountain grains I will be working with- particularly millet, and their significance.
Mountain Grains – What are those?
The Kumaon region prides itself on being indigenous to many grains high in nutrition and taste. The most popularly consumed grains here are still rice and wheat, however, there are many other grains found here which are much higher in nutrition, availability, and taste. Some of them include, you guessed it, millets!
I know I make millet sound like a cluster of indistinct cereal grains that basically achieve the same thing, but they aren’t. There are many varieties of millet found all over India. The variety of millet I will be focusing on at Gene Campaign is Finger Millet. It’s also called Madua, Ragi , or Nachani.
Ragi or Madua, are nutrient packed foods rich in minerals, especially Calcium. They are 30 times richer in Calcium than rice and 10 times more fibrous. They are also a natural source of Essential Amino Acids (EAA). A ragi diet keeps diseases like osteoporosis at bay and could reduce risk of fracture. Ragi is also recommended for lactating mothers to improve milk production. Its high nutrient content makes ragi an ideal food for weaning babies.
EAAs in ragi help repair tissues, control the body’s blood sugar levels, and prevent growth of fat in the liver. Some EAAs are often lacking in a vegetarian diet, adding ragi to this diet would assure beneficial EAA supplement. They also act as natural relaxants and help fight anxiety, insomnia, migraine, and improve skin and hair health.
And guess what?
They are gluten free, you guys.
Another grain I’ll be working closely on is Amaranth, or Ramdana. This ancient Aztec grain is indigenous to parts of America and India (would make a great AIF mascot, eh). Amaranth is extremely high in Calcium, Iron and Vitamin C. The protein contained in amaranth is of an unusually high quality. It is also rich in other vitamins like A, C, E, K, B5, B6, folate, niacin, and riboflavin. The vitamin rich profile of grain amaranth is beneficial for regulating hormones and reducing menstrual pain, improving digestion, preventing cataract, and improving healthy clear skin. The minerals in amaranth aid detoxification, energy production, strong bones and teeth, improved metabolism, and prevent premature hair loss.
Also, its plumage is quite extraordinary:
These are two of the many grains I’ll be focusing on. I realise this blog post is relatively drab compared to the one before. I write this post to introduce you to the particular nutritional significance of these amazing grains. I’ll introduce more grains as I go.
My future blog posts will focus on the socio-cultural and gendered value of these grains. I’ll also be talking about what exactly we, at Gene Campaign, intend to do with all these lovely grains.
So keep reading!