Malabar Pepper by Kaani tribe, KMTR forest

Dichotomy of the cultivated and the wild

More & more people are slowly coming to realize the destruction settled-agriculture has caused on the planet by cutting down forests. So, it is upon our generation to restore them or at least, preserve them, now that we are aware that : forests are one of the many available tools useful to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide. But that won’t be possible unless we rely on the knowledge preserved by indigenous tribes across the globe about how a forest functions, behaves and regenerates. The global civilization needs to learn from the tribes and Adivasis in the forests to restore the lungs of our planet. But history is fraught with examples of the civilized getting in touch with tribals exposing them to the realities of civilization. The energies of civilization manage to pull them in and slowly the knowledge preserved in the minds of the tribals get lost.

One of the dichotomies of modern life while reaching out to tribes is this. By reaching out to indigenous tribes and conducting commerce with them, one is diluting the independence of the tribal life. But at the same time, without interacting with them, it wouldn’t be possible to learn the best tools to combat climate change, biodiversity loss, species extinction.

A fine balance needs to be struck in this dichotomy while interacting with native tribes those who continue to live and protect the way of life in a forest. One such demonstration which I am witnessing first hand is the work of Mr. Ganesan, Eco Development Officer, Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. KMTR is located in the Agastyamalai Biosphere Reserve, which was listed in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2005. It is one of the last few remaining refuges of Kaani Tribes of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

How much technology do we need?

Like most other introductions in the post-Covid world, I got introduced to Ganesan via a whatsapp group. Ganesan has taken upon himself to get forest produce by the Kaani tribespeople the due it deserves. I was invited by him and Mr. Ramkumar, Udhavum Ullangal Nellai Cancer Care Centre, Tirunelveli to meet them first-hand last week at Karayar. Because of the lack of mobile network inside the forest, we got introduced to Kaani Tribes by the old fashioned meet-and-greet. Thankfully, there was no other way!

I can’t do enough justice while describing the ethereal feeling of entering their beautiful little hamlet during a drizzly day. From the graceful stone steps leading upto the hamlet to the flowers growing all around their humble mud houses to the pepper vines climbing all around on jackfruit trees : I was surrounded by what Noushadya and I aspire our farm to be sometime in the future. They had a healthy mix of forestry and domesticated species : both animals and plants. The bananas and jackfruits growing within the forest looked bigger, healthier and taller than any I have seen growing : organic or conventional. I was filled with happiness and positive emotions throughout the time I was there. After a medical check up and a few meetings on several matters with the tribefolk, we were served with delicious soft tapioca along with fresh forest honey and a spicy chutney. Both the combinations were legendary and most of us visitors filled up our stomach with it for lunch.

How is Organic Malabar Black pepper grown?

One of the primary objectives of my visit was to procure forest grown pepper for home kitchen use and for the paruppu podis we make at the farm. To reduce our food miles, we have been looking for people who grow food ethically and sustainably. And what better place than from a forest that has existed much before homo sapiens existed. So, I wanted to take a look around to understand how pepper is grown. It turns out that there is minimum intervention from the tribesfolk for its cultivation. Pepper is native to both sides of the western ghats. The eastern side is where KMTR is located. The climatic and soil conditions are perfect for this vine here.

The fallen leaf litter from the canopy trees such as jackfruit, poovarasu, chikkoo, wild lemon, glyricidia acts as soil nourishment and it alone is sufficient because of the density of tree cover. There is no need for pest control because biodiversity has been protected by tribesfolk and the forest department : this alone acts as a pest control. Their hamlet is so deep inside the forest that there is no question of any kind of fossil fuel based fertilizer or carcinogenic pesticide reaching that far.

The dense tree cover prevents much evaporation loss from the forest floor; most parts of KMTR receives rainfall from both South West as well as North East monsoon systems. So, there is no need for manual irrigation either : the climate ensures enough water is available for the dance of life in the forest.

Green pepper when chewed brings a blast of fresh spicy flavour in the mouth

The pepper vines are mostly made to climb on glyricidia and jackfruit trees. Glyricidia is an introduced species in their hamlet and it helps in accelerating the adding of organic matter in the soil to continuously improve soil health. It is the perennial nitrogen-fixing green manure species of choice for a lot of tropical agro-forestry activists.

The tribal way life in KMTR doesn’t need much income because they grow or forage most of their own food, have limited medical needs, have minimal possession to maintain. But continuous integration with mainstream civil society has introduced certain commercial needs. A lack of recognition of the quality of their produce didn’t get them enough revenue to sustain even their minimal modern lifestyle. Mr. Ganesan directed his efforts to get their produce certified organic and in a matter of few weeks, he got the entire process completed.

Organic Malabar Black Pepper for sale

I formed an instant connection with the people and the place when I visited them. And I decided then and there to help them sell their produce. So, I purchased Black pepper in bulk from them. Please whatsapp me or DM us on either Instagram or Facebook to place an order. Sizes available are 250 gms, 500 gms and 1000 gms.

One kilogram pack

Regards

Sudhakar

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