Title

× Close
Climate watch

Climate change is taking its toll on Assam’s cuisine and culture

Several traditional varieties of vegetables, fruits, and rice are disappearing from the flood-prone state, with tea produce also affected.

Can climate change affect our culture? A drastic thought on the face of it, but when you remember that food is an intrinsic part of culture, it may no longer seem so extreme. As local varieties of food, including types of vegetables and rice, disappear from the northeastern state of Assam due to climate change, the impacts show not just in the food palette – and palate – of the region. It also changes the culture of the place, however gradually.

Certain varieties of vegetables and edible ferns that are an integral part of Assamese cuisine and typically eaten by the indigenous population are fast disappearing due to increasing temperature and erratic rainfall, said Kushal Barua, senior professor in Tezpur University’s environmental science department.

“For instance, there was a time when several varieties of local kosu, or colocasia, were available in Assam and were a part of the indigenous population’s diet. Now, many of these varieties are vulnerable, and some have already disappeared,” he explained.

“Similarly, there are many varieties of dhekia xaak (fiddlehead fern), which is extensively used in Assamese cuisine. Now, many varieties of this fern have disappeared or are vulnerable. It’s a similar tale with lai xaak, another leafy vegetable which is consumed by itself or in fish preparations.”

Visible impact

Kushal Barua, who is studying the impact of climate change on agriculture, said that the flowering behaviour of plants has been affected, which in turn impacts the grain or fruit quality.

“Joha, Assam’s popular indigenous variety of rice, has also witnessed a drop in grain quality as a result of this. Some commonly available indigenous fruits like poniyal are becoming rarer to find.” Even seasonal vegetables are “losing their taste”.

Climate change is also a factor in the spread of new weeds like parthenium, affecting the growth of other plants. “Parthenium is an invasive weed that affects native vegetation. One of the factors for its rapid spread is climate change. In places where it has invaded, it is seen that local vegetables like kola kosu, dhekia xaak and maimuni have disappeared,” said Ishwar Barua, a scientist at the Assam Agricultural University in Jorhat.

Parthenium also causes bronchial and skin allergy. “It is not difficult to spot this weed,” Ishwar Barua said. “You can even find it on roadsides. It is a menace in Guwahati, Jorhat, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong and many other areas in Assam. On our part, we have been trying to educate the local population to identify and kill this weed which does not let agricultural produce grow and also causes health problems.”

There has been a spurt in other invasive weeds, too, which are causing havoc to agricultural produce, including tea, a cornerstone of the state’s economy. “Dicanthium is one such weed which is infesting the tea gardens in Assam. Temperature change has a direct role in the spread of this weed which has come from the tropical zone and which is, worryingly, resistant to weedicide. It is causing a major worry to tea planters,” said Jayanta Deka, principal scientist in AAU’s agronomy department.

Such is its invasive nature that dicanthium, according to scientists, has the capacity to replace the 165 other types of weed that are typically found in tea gardens. Its place of origin is said to be the Caribbean, from where its seeds were carried by migratory birds. Its presence was first reported in Mizoram, and in 2015 it was spotted in Hailakandi district in Assam, testifying to its rapid spread.

Forced to adapt

Indigenous Assamese people are typically rice-eaters, and climate change has had an impact on local varieties of rice too. According to Tapan Baishya of Lotus Progressive Centre, an NGO that has been working with farmers in Assam’s Nalbari district, erratic rains and frequent floods have forced tribal communities to change their food habits.

“Certain varieties of rice like khali dhan are traditionally eaten during the monsoon season. Because of the frequent floods, the harvest is seriously affected. Therefore, farmers are moving to different local rice varieties, like ahu dhan and bao dhan which are more ‘flood resistant’,” Baishya said.

A local variety like bao dhan, for instance, is tall enough to ensure that the paddy grains remain above water even if the field is flooded. Moreover, its roots are strong enough to withstand the water current.

According to Ishwar Barua, this grain is “not the typical bao of Assam. Some communities are trying to grow bao dhan in lower Assam, like in Nalbari and Morigaon, but it’s not the typical bao. The actual variety of bao dhan has almost disappeared from the Sibsagar to Dhemaji belt in Assam where it is typically grown. From being grown in 4,00,000 hectares, bao farming has reduced to 70,000 hectares. It’s a similar scene in Bangladesh where bao was grown on a similar large scale.” Some potato varieties have disappeared too.

The flood-prone state, through which flows the Brahmaputra, has seen an increase of 1.4 degrees Celsius (minimum temperature) in the last 100 years, and a loss of 22.1 cm of annual rainfall in the same period, reveals data provided by RN Bhagat, scientist at Assam’s Tocklai Tea Research Institute.

“There has been a gradual rise in temperature. The changes that these have brought about in agricultural produce and to food habits in people is still not drastic, but the fact remains that it is happening,” Deka noted.

This article was first published on thethirdpole.net.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BULLETIN BY 

Athleisure is the new black

This new fashion trend sweeping across the country demands your attention.

A portmanteau of 'Athletic' and 'Leisure', the rising trend of 2015 – athleisure is a huge nod to two great trends that have taken hold of the fashion world: fitness and casualness. While Jane Fonda might have had the jump on this trend 30 years ago, it has only become a phenomenon after 2010 as the wellness industry started booming.

Not like we were not working out before. The Juicy Couture sweatpants of the 90s, the ubiquity of the sweatshirt from classrooms to boardrooms (we're looking at you Zuckerberg) were a precursor to this movement.

High fashion has lapped up athleisure because it brings with it the promise of functionality. High performance fabrics do most of the heavy lifting, from odour control to sweat proofing, using breathable fabrics, lending support and shaping, and helping in getting the maximum out of your ensemble. The focus on style ensures that the clothes travel easily from gym to work to bar (probably juice bar). The tectonic shift has been in not keeping high performance workout gear restricted to the gym alone.

This is one of the few fashion trends, other than jeans, to trickle up rather than trickle down; and the designers have responded accordingly. Taking it a notch higher into the Sports Luxe category, there is a Karl Lagerfeld sweatshirt and couture sneakers from Chanel; there is Alexander Wang teaming up with Adidas and giving us sweats that are so sleek they can and have been worn on the red carpet. Victoria’s Secret has a new active wear line and even Beyonce has debuted Ivy Park, her active wear line with TopShop, signalling peak athleisure. This is a trend that shows off the body rather than hides it, and with Fit being the new Rich, style and fitness coalesce to make it the break out trend of the season.

While it is an inducement for fitness, it is not for the fit people exclusively. It allows you to live out the fitness fantasy without actually doing a lot of the work. Fatigue from the skinny jeans has made the market welcome comfortable yoga pants; a trend that refuses to go away! Started as a largely female focused trend, companies like Lululemon and SweatBetty bet big on the athleisure lifestyle and are now multimillion dollar companies that make the best yoga leggings in the business. Athleisure became more male friendly with compression pants and puffer jackets that kept you cool in the summer and warm in the winter all the while being a snug fit. Even sneakers have never seen such an all-time high in the market as they do now, with Yeezy’s, Air Jordan’s, to the Adidas superstar fetching top dollar and we have athleisure to thank for that.

Ajio.com
Ajio.com

It is one of the few moments when fashion is not being merely whimsical; it is actually listening to what people want to wear and what makes sense according to their evolving lifestyles. Paying heed to this gap in the market of a population that runs on Fitbit and counts its calories has paid out and proven to be a win-win for both the brands and the buyers.

Ajio brings athleisure to Indian shores with its Active Capsule collections. The handpicked Too Fit to Quit capsule provides a range of sweatshirts, t-shirts, running shorts and track pants to work out or lounge around in. The casual style is carried over to accessories as well as a great range of bags and sneakers. Along with a versatile portfolio of Puma, Vans, Wrangler, Lee, Skechers etc it also has an in-house line in fitness apparel that mixes Indian tastes with urban contemporary. Head over to Ajio.com, the aisle of style to shop this trend.

This article was produced on behalf of Ajio.com by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

× Close