During the lockdowns associated due to Covid-19 pandemic in mid April when food shortages hitting the small coastal state of Goa. A message was floated urging people to support local farmers rather than emptying racks in grocery stores and depend on locally produced foods and help farmers who were stuck with their produces due to wholesale markets being closed.
Goa being small and still rural so it was a better opportunity to buy produces directly from the farmers. One such example was cowpea, a small white bean with a distinct black ‘eye’ also called black- eyed beans. In parts of India they are also called lobia, chawli, karamani and alasande in the Konkan belt.
The origin of these beans is said to be in West Africa but spread globally due to perhaps the slave trade in colonial empires. It is an ideal crop for hot climates and sandy soils making it easier to be cultivated in many parts of India. In the state of Kerala a traditional dish called olan is prepared by these beans by cooking it along ash gourd and coconut milk. But it was surprising to hear that not many Goans wanted to buy nor many knew how to prepare them.
In most parts of India today the more in demand pluses include mung, urad, tur, masoor, kabuli channa, rajama so much so that they had to be imported by the government in April. Along with these the cheap yellow peas too were imported which nowadays is substituted for tur dal and ground to flour and used as a substitute for chickpea flour.
It is a pity to see that for our requirements we have ti import these pulses when India is self sufficient in producing these pulses for the consumption. The thing what is happening is that people highly depend on pulses for their proteins and especially in situations where meats were scarce or not available.
Also in places with scarcity of fresh green veggies the only rescuer is dal. The versatility of dal is immense and has made it so popular not only as a compliment to go with rice or chapatti but to be consumed in myriad other forms like gatte ki subzi, wherein dumplings of dal flour are cooked in a gravy or like pancakes called chilla, as a snack either fried or dry roasted and even in sweets too like besan ke laddo, mysore paak, or simply it could be a one pot sumptuous meal called kitchri in which the dal and rice are cooked together and requires very little spices and yet tastes awesome.
Even ration card holders were announced to be give a kilo of pulses along with wheat and rice for a period of three months. But a thing that was disliked was that there was a great delay in dispatching to states.
But this import of pulses has posed a real threat to farmers as with this import the interest of farmers will deviate from growing to pulses which requires skills, patience and a lot of labour to other crops which require less labour. Rather the farmers should be encouraged to grow more pulses and rely less on importing.
The problem can be tracked from the fact that the Green Revolution, focused mainly on grains like rice and wheat. Pulses which are also an integral part of Indian meals were simply ignored. As consumers it seems to have a set mind set for pulses as seen in the case of black-eyed beans in Goa.
Somewhere there is a resistance to change as we just tend to buy what we are use to or familiar with. All this makes quite a puzzled situation because different parts of India prefer different pulses. Like in Southern India urad and tur, in the West mung and tur, in East mung and channa, in Punjab rajma and urad, in North urad,channa, masoor and toor. But amidst all this is great to know that there are 30 different pulses and some 15 lesser known pulses but they are all grown in India.
Some ignored pulses include kulith or horse gram and is extremely nutritious, matki or moth beans are highly drought resistant and suited for semi arid regions, black chickpeas, and other varieties of broad beans commonly categorised under a general term ‘vaal’.
Apart from these dried pulses there is even a large variety of their green forms which can be plated as a vegetable, like the shelled peas or as pods like French beans, lobia beans, guwar and many more. These too are very nutritious and easily available in local green grocery stalls.
The benefits of these pulses are lost when imported in dried forms and even a bigger loss is there to the agriculture system as pulses and legumes provide a natural fertilizer to the soil by increasing its nitrogen content and therefore restoring the fertility of the soil. The fertility is restored at no added costs and provides food in the form of beans, pods, leaves and even the dried pulses.
Disregarding our locally grown pulses equals to not harvesting its benefits as a food and even for the agriculturalist. The lockdown is a reminder and also given us an opportunity to reconnect with our local harvests.