This brings to the fore the near complete absence of vegetables from the food of the Bhil Adivasis these days. Traditionally the Bhils used to grow many vegetables interspersed with their cereals and pulses during the monsoons. These not only provided vitamins and micronutrients during the monsoons but the Bhils also dried these vegetables and stored them for cooking with pulses during the rest of the year. Some of these vegetables also provided them with fibre for making ropes.In addition to this the Bhils cooked and ate the leaves of various trees in the forest. However, with time there has come a drastic change in the agriculture of the Bhils. The spread of cash crops like cotton and soyabean have resulted in the jettisoning of the diverse cropping patterns of yore, and these days only cereals, pulses and the cash crops are sown. Ropes of synthetic variety are now bought from the market instead of being woven from the fibre sown on the farm and so sowing of fiber has stopped depriving the Bhils of the flowers for vegetables. Heavy deforestation has ensured that there are very few of those trees still standing that used to provide leaves to be eaten as vegetables. The earnings from the cash crops are not enough for most Bhils and so they are unable to purchase expensive vegetables from the market. The net result is that the Bhils are suffering from vitamin and micro-nutrient deficiency and so feeling lethargic, dizzy and are racked with pains.
One young man who works as a construction labourer in the city of Indore in the off season after the monsoon cropping is over, said that he had to come back home because of his pains. He had spent about Rs 1000 in getting intravenous saline and glucose infusions and obviously this had not helped him. After five days of daily intramuscular injections of vitamins and micronutrients he was up and ready to work again. When I asked him whether he took vegetables when he was in Indore working as a labourer, he replied in the negative saying that they were too expensive.
When we asked the Bhils why they had stopped sowing vegetables along with their other crops they said that given their small land holdings which had got smaller over time due to bifurcation, they needed every inch of land for sowing cash crops. Moreover, they said that the non-tribe people laughed at them for eating these traditional leafy vegetables. Not knowing the importance of vegetables as a source of vitamins and micro-nutrients they have discontinued their traditional food habits and so have become ill. The deteriorating returns to agriculture from even cash crops like cotton and soyabean have severely dented their incomes and they are in no position to buy vegetables from the market. Some Bhil farmers do grow vegetables as shown below but they too do so as mono crops for selling in the market and do not consume much themselves. These are hybrid modern varieties and not the traditional leafy vegetables that the Bhils used to grow earlier. Often due to over supply in the market, the Bhils do not get good returns from selling these vegetables and this discourages them from sowing them again.