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Rice-crab production in south India

The role of indigenous knowledge in designing food security policies

B. Rajasekaran and Michael B. Whiteford

Most indigenous food production systems are dynamic and complex reflecting generations of careful observations of the agro-ecological and sociocultural environment. Harvesting crabs from the bunds of rice fields is one of several food production systems practised by resource-poor people in ricebased farming systems in south India. Local people possess an in-depth knowledge of the crabs and their ecology. Crabs in turn contribute significantly to the protein intake of resource-poor households. This article discusses the impact of crab consumption on food expenditure as well as analysing certain sociocultural factors which influence the catching and consumption of crabs. Factors threatening the existence of the rice-crab production system are also enumerated. Finally policy guidelines to conserve the autochthonous rice-crab production system are suggested.

Agricultural programmes designed for small-scale farmers in developing countries are conventionally aimed at increasing food production.[1] Yet, in spite of increased food production, resource-poor people in many of the developing countries continue to suffer from severe malnutrition.[2] Moreover, the increased pressure for food production has led to the gradual disappearance of indigenous plant and animal foods from the diets of local people.[3] This process has resulted in the further deterioration of local knowledge systems associated with the local plant foods.[4] The erosion of cultural knowledge related to food production all too often increases the dependency of resource-poor rural households on the external food markets.

Indigenous knowledge, as the basis of decision making, is frequently unknown or overlooked by developmental workers seeking solutions to food problems.[5] Too often there is no systematic record documenting the knowledge system - what it is, what it does, who does it, or the local approaches for changing it.[6] Some contemporary research on local knowledge systems related to food production indicates that many of these systems are sophisticated, and contribute significantly to food security.[7] Food production systems involve complex processes for producing food from diversified agro-ecological environments to meet the subsistent needs of the local people. In addition, these systems are dynamic and complex, reflecting generations of careful observations of the agro-ecological and sociocultural environments.

In the pursuit of designing sustainable food production strategies, studying indigenous food production systems can be a rewarding experience.[8] Local plants are important genetic resources for sustainable land use systems and possess high nutritional and medicinal values.[9] Local-level crop rotational practices which involve a cropping pattern of cereals, legumes, oilseeds and vegetables result in the availability of a wide variety of foods.[10] Such practices reduce the dependency of the farmers on credit and external input supply.