Uncultivated foods and the poor
Deccan Development Society
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May 2002 - Zaheerabad region of Medak District in the South Indian State of Andhra Pradesh is situated in the semi arid tract. Lands here are rainfed and highly degraded. Soil depths in most places are less than 6 inches. Red soils dominate the land. Consequently productivity is abysmally low. Farmers feel extremely lucky if an acre of land produces two quintals of sorghum. Erratic rainfall which has become the hallmark of the last decade leaves even this level of productivity with a question mark seriously threatening the food security of the poor who mainly own these type of lands.

It is in this context that one should look at the agriculture of the poor and the role of uncultivated food in their lives.

Agriculture of the poor is characterized by the celebration of bio-diversity on their lands. A minimum of 8 to 12 crops is grown by them at the same time and space on their lands. The symbiotic relationship between these crops can be seen in a wide range of issues: soil management, fertility management, internal cycle of inputs, pest control, labour management, diet management, risk insurance and many others.

Outside of such materialistic issues, farmers also look at their agro bio-diversity from a spiritual point of view. The diversity on their fields is their way of celebrating nature and establishing a communion with it. In this celebration they not only see the role of their cultivated diversity but also the overwhelming contribution of the enormous diversity of uncultivated foods.

A major reason for this spiritual celebration of diversity is the fact that uncultivated foods, over the millennia have been the source of life for the poor. It has made up a part of the quantum of the food they consume as well as the major source of nutrition for them.

Articles in this series
 •  Uncultivated foods and the poor
 •  Genetic security in native baskets
 •  Contract farming: A burden
 •  Fortune favours prepared farmers
 •  The crops of truth Many types of green leaves are consumed as vegetables, and most of them are rich sources of calcium, iron, carotene, vitamin c riboflavin and folic acid. These greens are inexpensive sources of many nutrients, which are essential for growth, and maintenance of normal health. Consumption of such greens in adequate amounts especially by pregnant and nursing women and by children should also be encouraged. If greens are included in the diet in adequate amounts the need for fruits as an essential item (which is relatively costly) in diet is much reduced.

Green leafy vegetable requirement per day in grams is as follows:

Adult woman 125 gms
Adult man 100-125 gms
Pregnant & lactating women 150 gms
Adolescent girls 150 gms
Adolescent boys 100 gms
School children 75 gms
Pre-school children 50 gms

An average intake of about 50 gms of greens provides the required amount of vitamin-A to the child. Regular intake of greens in such amount will also help to build up a store of the vitamin-A in the body to provide for the lean seasons. An intake of about 100 gms of a mixture of greens daily by pregnant woman will ensure adequate storage of vitamin-A in the liver of infants at birth. Consumption of adequate amounts of greens, which are rich in folic acid, helps to correct Megaloblastic anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can be prevented by daily consumption of greens. Most of the greens are alkali-producing foods, fiber to the diet. Greens are particular rich in riboflavin. In general greens are rich sources of calcium, iron, magnesium etc. In recognition of all above said merits practically every health and nutrition agency advises people to grow greens in kitchen gardens, nutrition gardens, school gardens, Bio-intensive kitchen gardens etc.

However what are people's practices, consumption patterns and food sources to access this most important component part of nutrition is an area that hardly attracts attention. Uncultivated Foods as the richest source of nutrition for the poor and as an unique practice of the poor to sustain their food security offer a wonderful opportunity for an exciting study.

The Deccan Development Society, a voluntary rural development organisation which has been working in Medak District since the last decade and half has been looking at the role of uncultivated foods specially in the lives of the poor.

Since 1989, the health workers of the society, have taken the lead in understanding this role of uncultivated foods in the lives of the poor. They have identified and classified over 80 uncultivated foods consisting of vegetables, greens and berries. A majority of these women are dalits and are at the lowest rung of the socio- economic ladder in their communities and work as farm labour to eke out a living. Therefore, the perspectives they bring are very significant from the point of view of gender and poverty.

The Deccan Development Society initiated another study during June 1999, which was exploratory in nature. To begin with the information regarding the uncultivated greens available during rainy season was documented in detail.

Uncultivated crops: Source of food for poor

Most of the rural people especially the poor consume uncultivated crops at least 50-80 days in a year. Earlier it was eaten for more number of days. Poor while working in their fields gather these greens and bring them to house. Those who don't work go around the near by fields specially to gather these greens. Doggali Koora, Gangavayeli, Sannavayeli and Pundi are consumed throughout the year. Pundi and Doggali Koora are eaten more than 20 times in a year by some families. When monitorized each family consumes uncultivated crops worth Rs.500-1000 out of their total expenditure on vegetables is around Rs.1500 - Rs.2000 depending on family size. Some of the greens like Gunugu are sold as green fodder in near by towns. Uncultivated foods like Chennangi, Soyikoora, Adonda and Adivikakarakaya are also sold in towns, as they are preferred by people in towns, as they are good for health. Greens like Talaili and Kashapandla chettu are never uprooted, as their availability is less and have high medicinal value. Even the landlords ask the labour not to weed these two plants, which shows its importance in the lives of people and their concerns to protect them. Kasapandla chettu is called "Davakhalnaleni Mandu". "Mydkur Narasamma" of Metlakunta lives only by selling these uncultivated greens in "Bidar" a near by town. She is very old and has fracture in hand cannot work as labour and hence slowly collects these foods and sells in the town.

Chemical agriculture - reduced availability of uncultivated crops

All the uncultivated greens are present mostly in Farm Yard Manure applied fields or in fields where chemical fertilizers are not applied. Very few greens are seen in chemical fertilizer applied fields as they die when they are young due to burning effect. Due to this only half of what use to be available previously is available now. In fertilizer applied fields greens are picked only after one or two irrigation which causes fresh leafs growth other wise it is not safe for health says 'Narasamma of Kalbemal village'. In pesticide fields greens are not collected.

Utility of uncultivated crops during famines

Past history clearly indicates that uncultivated foods had a major share in the food consumed during famines and stress periods. In Zaheerabad region when there was famine 18 years ago people survived for 4 months by eating only these uncultivated greens specially Doggalikoora, Gangavayeli, Sannavayeli, Pundi, Gunugu Koora, Uttareni and Kapringa Pandlu. People ate more of curries made of these greens and negligible roti and rice. Pundi was even mixed in Jowar flour and rotis were made, as there was not enough flour. Poor people used to go for well digging and well restoration and collected these greens from near by sugarcane fields.

Uncultivated foods are tasty

They are tastier. 'Santoshamma' of Basanthpur village says that Doggalikoora is more nutritious than broiler egg is. Some time's different leaves of uncultivated greens are cooked together. These foods do not need any species except a little bit of oil but still they are tastier according to Seshamma of Algole village. Sometimes leaves of these greens are cooked by adding little bit of onion. Generally they are mixed with gram dal, Redgram dal, lentil dal and greengram dal.

High medicinal value of uncultivated crops

Uncultivated crops play a key role in the health care of poor people. They utilise these greens in different forms like curry, leaf extracts and tablets etc. to cure common ailments like headache, swellings, wounds, scabies, improper digestion and major diseases like jaundice and diabetes.

Atteli koora when fed to postnatal mothers improves breast milk availability to infants. When lactating mothers eat pundi it is good for infants as it keeps their stomach free. Uncultivated plants like Kashapandla chettu is called "Davakhana leni Mandu" by people.

What is uncultivated food?

In the study, we have used word "uncultivated" in a more general way to denote either of the following three categories.

  • The greens from land that are not cultivated such as plant, creeper etc.
  • The greens that are not cultivated but are available as per partner crop in a cultivated field etc.
  • The greens that are available from cultivated plants, but the product was not the explicit objective of the cultivation.


A preliminary study was done in 10 villages of Zaheerabad region. Information collection comprised mainly of observation and open ended discussions. Small group meetings with women were organized to understand the collective knowledge of women from the disadvantaged section. Detailed information was collected about uncultivated foods available during rainy season and same method will be followed for uncultivated foods during winter and summer season. DDS field staff and Sangam Karyakarthas facilitated this study whereas women members of the sangam were resource persons.

Classification of uncultivated foods

They are classified according to seasonal availability and their occurrence in irrigated and dry land conditions. Some of these foods are available in rainy and winter season and a few throughout the year. Leaves and flowers of some trees which are also consumed as foods are listed separately.

Classification of uncultivated foods according to seasonal availability

Rainy season (June to September)

No. Local Name Scientific Name
1 Doggali Koora Amaranthus polygamus
2 Yennadri  
3 Peddakasha pandla koora Solanum nigrum
4 YelakachevulaKoora Merremia emarginata
5 Gurmasi Koora  
6 Tella pundi Hibiscus cannabinus
7 Sannavayili Koora  
8 Kapringa pandlu Lycopersicum esculentum wild
9 Ponnaganti Koora Alternanthera sessilis
10 Igda Koora Cyanotis auxillaris
11 Teeta koyila Koora Mucuna pruriens
12 Shyama Koora Colocasia antiquoram
13 Tagirancha Cassia tora
14 KodijutuKoora (rajgiriKoora) Celoria cristata
15 Adivimentam Koora Trigonella foenumgraecum
16 Pittya Thalakaya Koora  
17 Adivi pulla Koora Oxalis corniculata
18 Erra Pundi Hibiscus cannabinus
19 Gangavayeli Koora Portulaca oleracea
20 Atteli Koora  
21 Gormadi Koora Enicostema hyssopifolium
22 Chiekkudu Aaku Koora Cyamopsis tetragonolaba
23 Budumakaya  
24 Nalla Doggali (usike doggali) Amaranthus sps.
25 TummiKoora Leucas aspera
26 Chinna kasapandla koora Solanum nigrum
27 Adivi soya Koora Aurthum graveolus wild
28 Gunugu Koora Celosia argentia
29 Uttareni Koora Achyranthes aspera
30 Chennangi Aaku Lagerstoemia parviflora
31 Talaili Koora  
32 Mullu Doggali Amaranthus spinosus
33 Sukkha benda Abelmuscus ficulmias
34 Thota Koora Amaranthus
35 Tella garjala Koora Trianthema decandra
36 VomaKoora Trachyspermum ammi


No. Local Name Sceintific Name
1 Ataka mamidi Koora Boerhavia diffusa
2 Chinna kakarakaya Mormordica charantica
3 Polapatram Gymnema sylvestre
4 Tella Bacchali Spinach olceracea
5 Tondaku  
6 Doosari Teega Cocculus hirsutus
7 Anupa puvvu Dolichos lablab
8 Nalla Bacchli Basella sp.
9 Adivi kakarakaya Mormordica charantica
10 Adivi chemmakaya Canavalia gladiata
11 Bebber kaya Vigna sinensis
12 Angi Bingi Aaku  
13 Erra Bacchali Basella rubra


No. Local Name Sceintific Name
1 Talaili Koora  
2 Sannavayeli Koora  
3 Gangavayeli Koora Portulaca oleracea
4 Pundi Koora Hibiscus cannabinus
5 Shyama Koora Colocasia antiquoram
6 Pulla Koora Oxalis corniculata
7 Gormadi Koora Enicostema hyssopifolium
8 Ponaganti Koora Alternanthera sessilis
9 Doggali Koora Amaranthus polygamus
10 Nalla Doggali Amaranthus sp.
11 Chilka Koora Amaranthus virdis
12 Kodi juttu Koora Celosia cristata
13 Teeta Koyala Koora Mucuna pruriens
14 Chennangi Chettu Lagerstoemia parviflora

List of trees whose leaves and flowers are cooked are available throughout year

No. Local Name Sceintific Name
1 Munuga Aaku Moringa oleifera
2 Avisha Koora (Kaya and flowers) Sesbania grandiflora
3 Tellarjam  
4 Sada puvvu Sesbania egyptica
5 Ryala puvvu Cassia fistula
6 Tangedu puvvu Cassia ariculata
7 Medi pandla Koora Ficus racemosa

Classification according to occurrence in irrigated and rainfed conditions

Some uncultivated foods are available both in irrigated and dry lands and some only in any one of these situations. The classification is as follows:

Dry lands

No. Local Name Sceintific Name
1 Taduka dobbudu  
2 Doggali Koora Amaranthus polygamus
3 Ganagvayeli Koora Portulaca oleracea
4 Adivi Mentham Koora Trigonella foenum-graecum wild
5 Pappu Koora Portulaca sps
6 Kusuma Koora Carthamus tinctorius
7 Shanega Koora Cicer arietinum
8 Yelukachevula Koora Merremia emarginata
9 Kashapandla Koora Solanum nigrum
10 Chinta Aaku Tamarindus indicus
11 Igda Koora Cyanotis auxillaris
12 Avakoora Brassica nigra
13 Vulligadda Koora Allium cepa
14 Talaili  
15 Pundi Hibiscus cannabinus
16 Yennadri  
17 Tagirancha Cassia tora
18 Thummi Koora Leucas aspera
19 Mullu Doggali Koora Amaranthus spinosus
20 Kodi juttu Koora Celosia cristata
21 Chinna Kashapandlu Solanum nigrum
22 Pedd Kashapandlu Solanum nigrum
23 Adivi Mentham Koora Trigonella foenum-graecum wild
24 Adivi Soyi Koora Aurthum graveolus wild
25 Pittya thalakaya Koora  
26 Gunugu Koora Celosia argentia
27 Jonna Chenchali Digera arvensis
28 Gurmash  
29 Adivi Pulla Koora Oxalis corniculata
30 Uttareni Achyranthes aspera
31 Tella Pundi Hibiscus cannabinus
32 Nalla Pundi Hibiscus sps.
33 Chennangi Aaku Lagerstoemia parviflora
34 Kapringa pandlu Lycopersicum esculentum wild
35 Atteli Koora  
36 Budumakaya Cucumis sps
37 Tella garijala Koora Trianthema decandra
38 Nalla Doggali Amaranthus sps.
39 Sukkha Bhenda Abelmusus ficulmias
40 Teeta Koyila Koora Mucuna pruriens
41 Thota Koora Amaranthus sps.

Irrigated lands

No. Local Name Sceintific Name
1 Yennadri  
2 Tagirancha Cassisa tora
3 Tummi Koora Leucas aspera
4 Doggali Koora Amaranthus polygamus
5 Kodijuttu Koora Celosia cristata
6 Chinna kashapandlu Solanum nigrum
7 Pedda Kashapandlu Solanum nigurm
8 Yeluka chevula Koora Merremia emarginata
9 Adivi Pulla Koora (puli chinta) Oxalis corniculata
10 Tella pundi Hibiscus cannabinus
11 Erra pundi Hibiscus sps.
12 Chennangi Lagerstoemia parviflora
13 Sannavayeli Koora  
14 Gangavayeli Koora Portulaca oleracea
15 Talaili Koora  
16 Kapringa pandlu Lycopersicum esculentum wild
17 Mullu Doggali Amaranthus spinosus
18 Budumakaya Cucumis sps.
19 Shyama Koora Colocasia antiquoram
20 Nalla Doggali Amaranthus sps.
21 Ponnaganti Koora Alternanthera sessilis
22 Gormadi Koora Enicostema hyssopifolium
23 Chikkudu Aaku Koora Cyamopsis tetragonoloba
24 Thota Koora Amaranthus sps.
25 Chiluka Koora Amaranthus virdis
26 Shanega Koora Cicer arietinum
27 Ava Koora Brassica nigra
28 Adyam Koora  
29 Vulli porka Allium cepa
30 Elligadda porka Allium sativum

Detailed information about each of the items of uncultivated foods collected on the following aspects.

  • Local name
  • Habitat
  • Season of availability
  • Method of collection
  • Edible part
  • Process of cooking
  • Consumption during famine or stress periods
  • Utility as fodder
  • Propagation
  • Rituals
  • Medicinal uses
  • Social relation
  • Economic value

These uncultivated greens are some times cooked in combination with other greens.

This article is part of a series of pulications reproduced with the permission of the Deccan Development Society

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