A two-day event to “commemorate the comeback” of the traditional crop of millet was organised by NESFAS at its office here.
The event, ‘Celebration of Millet – an Indigenous Peoples’ Heritage of Meghalaya’, concluded today. It showcased the potential of millet and coincides with the observation of 2023 as the International Year of Millets by the United Nations.
The concluding day saw the participation of representatives of 11 communities from Jaintia Hills, Khasi Hills and Ri-Bhoi, with East Shillong MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh, under whose constituency the NESFAS offices falls, the chief guest.
NESFAS founding chairperson, Phrang Roy, gave an overview of the celebration and shared his joy in having chef Thomas Zacharius, founder of The Locavore, a partner in the event, working with NESFAS.
“We as NESFAS have worked to glamorise the food to pursue the taste,” Roy said. “We must focus on nature-based food systems for their resilience and we have lived here with the same resilience until today. NESFAS aims to promote the food that the communities grow and somehow in this event it can be seen that there is a blend of contemporary knowledge with modern culture in the communities. Hence, we can be game changers.”
Over the period of two days, the programme created a space for diverse stakeholders to come together to discuss and share their experiences of millets in Meghalaya and collectively chart a path that can aim at reviving millet, known as krai in Khasi, consumption and production in ways that are thoughtful and inclusive.
The 11 communities and five chefs from Shillong also demonstrated an innovative solution through the 12 dishes that were prepared out of millet under the leadership of Chef Zac. The local chefs were Jemyleen Greta Diengdoh, Naphi Samanbha Mawroh, Benny Paia Dondor Wankhar, Ahmedaki Laloo and Artet Kharsati.
Wankhar said, “As a local chef I always want to focus on local products and ingredients just as we are focusing on krai, it’s like a play on the local recipes. I’m elated that the event went well and the food came out good just as we thought.”
Bibiana (only one name given in the NESFAS press release), a lifelong millet cultivator, narrated stories on how millet cultivation was undertaken when she was young and what has changed today. She also expressed her pride and joy in seeing millet get the recognition it received today and stressed that it is a beneficial crop that is nutritious and filling too.
“Millet is such a rich item and I strongly recommend that we (farmers) strengthen millet cultivation for our own good,” she said, adding a plea to the government not to ban jhum, or shifting, cultivation, as that move would be a huge blow to the livelihoods and farming practices of local communities.
Babu Nestar Kharmawphlang then led the phawar (couplet), which was a poignant depiction of his journey as a child and millet through the couplet.
A huge range of dishes was prepared today, both featuring millet and complementing the grain. These included warm millet tea with cinnamon, iced mint roasted millet lemon tea, millet and squash soup, millet pakoda, millet cakes, puddings and more.
Chef Thomas said that millet, in Meghalaya as much of the world, has faced a loss of demand as people perceive the crop to be less tasty as compared to wheat, for example. “As such, we are trying to find solutions to change that by collaborating with local chefs here in Shillong. We have been able come up with really innovative recipes using local ingredients with equipment which are accessible and available to all over Meghalaya. The experience with these communities has been really amazing because they are very open and receptive and they find that they’ve already been responding very well to these recipes and we hope that this can be taken forward in a much bigger way,” he said.
Lyngdoh said that this was the first time that she was “exposed” to millet and added that support for such programmes needs to be forthcoming in the future.
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