The cultivation of indigenous crops has the potential to make agriculture climate-smart, genetically diverse and sustainable and that was the key-motivating factor for Aipil R Marak, a custodian farmer in Mandal Nokwat of Garo Hills.
In 2017, Aipil R Marak came across a handful of Job’s Tears (Coixlacryma jobi) seeds in his community which was later found to have not been cultivated in the region for more than 20 years. Job’s tears plant is an ancient cereal grain which was a staple food for the indigenous communities in North Eastern states of India, especially those who are living in the rural communities.
Community members in earlier times would use the cereal to make rice beer. They would also mix the Job’s Tears by boiling it with rice to consume it.
Job’s Tears is known locally as Me•garu in Garo and Sohriew in Khasi; besides its utility as a staple food in the indigenous communities, Job’s Tears also serves as a mixture with other starchy staple food like rice and millets. A single Job’s Tears seed can produce seven plants which when compared to other grains has been observed to produce less than that. The local people do ensure that no grain goes to waste as Job’s Tears can also be used for beads and crafts that is known as Ripok in Garo.
Aipil had been driven to empower this indigenous crop by growing and producing its harvest to be redistributed and outsourced to other farmers in the region. He said, “We often neglect our indigenous crops which have been proven to be climate resilient, and often yield crops which are better suited to the impact of climate change, sustaining from droughts and famine as they grow in hilly terrain.”
He added,“Job’s Tears has not been given importance in Mandal Nokwat for 20 years. Job’s Tears was our staple food a long time ago, but presently we are more dependent on rice.”
The commitment of reviving Job’s Tears has taken Aipil three years to cultivate the plant and to be harvested this November which will be marketed towards further distribution. This will improve the conditions of the farmers in the communities and replace the nutritious value from rice.
He expressed that it would be a great privilege for him if he can produce and improve the consumption and to further protect the seed security in the community. He added, “My vision is to spread seeds of those food crops which are most neglected by the community with the help of NESFAS.”
Aipil is the only custodian farmer found to be growing certain indigenous crops such as the mentioned Job’s Tears and other varieties of Millet (Misi Jongsu, Misi Wangal and Misi Reding) which will help replace rice and its varieties to further revive indigenous crops. His purpose is to use these seeds to conserve them and to bear hope for maintaining our traditional ways.