Raanbhaji, a group of edible wild leafy vegetables, have greater nutritional value and medical benefits than regular market vegetables. The Church is promoting a sustainable development project in 13 villages, inhabited by Siddi, descendants of African slaves. The goal is to encourage younger generations to consume Raanbhaji.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – "During the period of the lockdown, we instructed people to go back to eating [traditional] wild plants,” said Fr Melwin Pais, director of the Sindhudurg Diocesan Development Society (SDDS), in Maharashtra.
The people in question are ethnic Siddis, who “descend from African slaves” brought to India by Arab merchants, Bishop Allwyn Barretto of Sindhudurg explained.
“When slavery was abolished, the Siddi fled to the forests. Here they live isolated, in small villages, marginalised,” he added. “They work as farmers and manual labourers with few job opportunities.”
Under lockdown, hundreds of millions of people became unemployed across India, compounding already high levels of poverty.
For this reason, Fr Pais had the idea of offering a chance for sustainable development by letting village women grow and harvest wild plants.
“We organised an information programme about edible wild leafy vegetables (Raanbhaji),” said the clergyman.
“One elderly village woman, Ms Desai, explained how one can survive and [financially] support one's family with Raanbhaji.”
These vegetables are considered healthier and with greater medical benefits than other market vegetables. People have consumed them for centuries. Now, according to Fr Pais, “it's time to promote this food also among the younger generations”.
The plants in question are: takala (Cassia Tora or wild senna), kurdu (Celosia Argentea), pevga, aloo (potato), ghol (amaranth), mayalu (Malabar spinach), saijan saag (moringa leaves), nalichi bhaji (water spinach), the shoots of kanaki, bamboo, chivari, and others.
Their nutritional value is higher than that of other greens, so much so that a market for Raanbhaji is developing.
Growing and tending to Raanbhaji has become a sustainable development project, promoted by the Diocese of Sindhudurg and Caritas India. At present, it is in place in at least 13 villages.