Orissa tribals eat sweet potato to stay alive

Himalayan News Service

Bhubaneswar, May 6:

The hardy sweet potato is helping tribals in Orissa beat hunger as they fight for survival against droughts, floods and desperate poverty.

In large tracts of Orissa’s tribal belt, beset with natural disasters and penury, sweet potato is grown as it can survive a flood or a drought and provide some food security.

Although farmers in many areas have shifted to monoculture, large numbers of people grow it only for their own consumption, not as a cash crop. On an average, a family grows 10 to 15 plants from which they harvest 50-100 kg of sweet potato.

Aran Dei, 55, from Udaigiri village in Orissa’s impoverished district of Kalahandi has been growing sweet potato in her two acres of land.

“In case of a drought or flood, we live by eating the sweet potato when we don’t get enough food grain,” she said. All the residents of the village do the same.

“Disaster may damage your crop, but the potatoes survive,” said Aran Dei, who supports a large family after her husband’s death a couple of years ago.

Krushna Patel of Pandelbahali village in neighbouring Nuapada district has been growing

sweet potato in his half-acre of land and gets at least 2,000 kg every year.

“It is enough to meet my food requirement. I sell some of it and exchange some of it for rice,” he said, adding that the other 40 households also depend on the white skinned sweet potato in times of need.

People say they would like to grow it on a larger scale if the problem of rats, wild boars and pigs could be tackled.

“If some training can be provided to the farmers for better storage and preservation, there is great potential to increase the production of the crop in the tribal areas,” said an activist.