Before the advent of the British, the indigenous people of the hills, including the Badagas, used to grow mixed crops on the hill slopes. This comprised a big variety – the main grains being, Ragi, Samai, Tenai and Amaranthus. This however changed when newer commercial cash crops like coffee, tea and vegetables were introduced.
Besides the ecological damages, these crops eroded the basis of socio-cultural interactions amongst the communities in the hills. It brought with it land ownership, individual profits and an economic hierarchy. It also eroded the knowledge amongst the people related to cropping, forests, wild animals and weather. Going back to “thenai kad u”, mixed cropped field, not only offers a variety of foods to the family diet but is a carefully evolved system with ecological considerations for pollinator and pest management and one that also factors in labour availability and efficiency through staggered harvesting practices.
The thenai kadu is also as much a social mobilization as it is an agricultural activity. With scaled up support and widespread replication, these efforts can restore a lost agriculture and a dying food system to the indigenous people of these hills.