Sundarban is a world famous deltaic region in West Bengal, which has been recognised as a Natural World Heritage site by UNESCO. This world famous biosphere reserve is now under threat due to various reasons and one of them is constant destruction of biodiversity. Biodiversity destruction is again caused by different reasons.
The tribal population in India consists of a good share of percentage of total population. So, their activities play a great role in the development and existence of the country. Lodha tribe is one of the primitive tribes of India, who can be largely found in the state of West Bengal. A total of around 100 families of Lodha tribe can be found in Sundarban islands. They are one of the most backward and aboriginal tribal group in the state West Bengal. As per the government records, the total population of Lodhas in West Bengal is 57012. Among them, 29, 360 are males and 27652 are females. The literacy level of the Lodhas is also comparatively very lower than others.
Lodha tribes are mainly hunters by profession and they live in close association with forest ecosystem and environment to supplement their daily requirement of food. They depend on the forest economy by hunting animals like lizards, toads, snakes and different types of birds. They collect jungle produce like Babui-grass tubers, roots and nuts. Their regular meal consists of flesh of small animals, fish collected from rivers, birds, eggs, wild fruits and roots. However, their main dietary content is animal flesh and birds for which they kill lots of birds and animals daily. This causes a great loss in biodiversity.
Nutritional status can be calculated by dietary, anthropometric, biochemical and clinical methods. As per the statistics, Chronic Energy or hunger Deficiency (CED) among the Lodhas in West Bengal is 45.2%. They are facing extreme nutritional stress that may have severe health consequences pertaining to morbidity and mortality. To reduce the rate of CED among the Lodha tribe, an urgent proactive nutritional supplementation and intervention is required. This dismal health condition in this tribal community is due to various reasons like poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, lack of safe drinking water etc.
The socio-economic condition of the Lodhas in Sundarbans is very poor. They are yet dependent on hunting for food and livelihood and not skilled in agriculture. People of other class keep cleaning the forest for agriculture so Lodhas go more deep inside the jungle for hunting. Though some of them have started working as agricultural labour, most of them still illegally hunt animals like tigers, deer, lizards, toads, snakes etc. They trap turtles illegally and sell them in the market and also eat them sometimes. They also catch crabs from riverside, which is their main profession. Crab is also their regular food item along with other small animals and birds. Their usual non-vegetarian food habit and livelihood practice has become a huge threat to biodiversity of Sundarbans. Regular intake of non-vegetarian food also affects their behaviour and nature. The poachers also use them to kill rare species of animals illegally. As a result, they have become characterised as criminal tribe. The continuous destruction of forest produces and animals cause ecological imbalance and invites natural disasters like land erosion and flood etc. in Sunderbans.
As per the definition of World Health Organization (WHO), health is a state of complete mental, physical and social well-being and not only the absence of disease or weakness. The poor nutritional status also results in high maternal mortality rate. Their food habits cause low haemoglobin (anaemia) among the pregnant women. Both the pregnant as well as lactating women in Lodha community are found having average calorie as consumption of balanced nutrient is lacking.
Rice is the main food grain for the Lodhas but daal (pulses) is rare in their meal. They collect honey from jungle risking their lives but cannot consume as they need to earn money by selling this honey. The non-vegetarian food which they take regularly lacks in fibre whereas vegetarian food is rich in fibre. These fibres help in providing vitamins and minerals to the body. The fibres also protect human body from heart diseases and stones by mutual action of cholesterol and bilirubin. With regular intake of fibre foods, they could avoid constipation and other related diseases like appendicitis, piles, hepatitis, hernia and varicose veins.
Regular high intake of animal flesh and birds increases the risk of heart diseases and cancer due to the saturated fat contents of it. Whereas meat should not be more than 10% of total daily calories, the Lodhas 90% food is non-vegetarian. They also do not clean the meat properly before cooking as they do not have idea about proper hygiene. This may lead to other diseases.
Considering all the above factors SEED (Society for Socio-Economic and Ecological Development), started a ‘Community Kitchen’ for the Lodhas in Rudranagar Gram Panchayat area of Sagar Island, Sundarban.
Lodha kids and adults enjoying healthy meal at community kitchenThe aim of this was to attract the Lodhas towards vegetable food items so that they do not indulge only in animal flesh items. It also aimed to keep them away from alcoholism. They used to intake country made cheap alcohols to control their hungry throughout the day when they go for catching crabs and other animals. It also developed a community feeling among them. For a period of three months, the community kitchen offered healthy mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods. For the first time, they could taste the various pulses and vegetables. Thus, they could avoid hunting animals and destructing forest resources.
However, we need more concrete plan and intervention to make it a permanent practice among the Lodhas. Once, they realise the importance of biodiversity conservation and good benefits of taking balanced diet, the Lodhas can also be part of this mission of biodiversity conservation. For this, they need alternative livelihood option and education.