With inputs by Hamari Jamatia
Food wastage is a huge problem worldwide. According to a recent report from the United Kingdom, the country’s supermarkets throw away 190 million meals a year which could have been used to feed the hungry. Similar statistics can be found in this 2016 news report by The Guardian which says that the United States wastes nearly 50 percent of food produced in the country thus “deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.” A huge proportion of the food either rots or else ends up in landfills.
When seen in this context, perhaps food management can be learnt from the tribals of Tripura who make sure that nothing is wasted. Food in rural areas is still considered sacred and in the absence of heightened consumerism, rice and vegetables are produced mostly for self-consumption and for local sale. Even then, there is some food leftover from the day to day cooking, beer brewing and from functions such as weddings and funerals. In order to avoid this food waste, over the past couple of decades, pig rearing has become very common in many households. This is not to say that pig rearing is new to the state. The Boroks have always had a long-standing tradition of rearing pigs for food. However, the state has begun to witness a steep growth in pig-rearing this decade.
In my Subha Chandra village in Sepahijala, there are 23 households and out of this, 21 households rear one or two pigs each. A resident of the village and my aunt Manjurani Debbarma explains the reason why pig farming has caught up big time with the villagers. She says that almost all farmers grow paddy in their farms. After the paddy is harvested there are a lot of leftover husks that get wasted. Pigs, on the other hand, love to eat the husk. Other than that each household has 5-10 members and a lot of food gets left over after consumption. All this food is served to the pig instead of landing in the garbage. Manjurani says, “I sold one pig some months ago and earned Rs. 39 thousand. It is a good source of income for rural families.”
In some villages of Tripura every wedding and funeral is held at community level. During the feast, pig owners leave an empty bucket near the communal kitchen. All leftovers from the feast are distributed in the buckets for pigs to eat later.
While current data is not available, a report from 2012 prepared by the Animal Resources Development Department of the Government of Tripura shows that there was a growth of 37.48 percent in pig rearing between 2007 to 2012. The report adds, “Pig farming will provide employment opportunities to rural farmers and supplementary income to improve their living standards.”
Pig rearing comes with its own set of challenges as Parija Debbarma found out after she bought a piglet for Rs. 5,000. It was her first time rearing a pig and she did not realize that the piglet had not developed teeth yet. For one full month she had to feed it milk. However, now the pig has grown bigger and is able to eat the leftover. Sometimes pigs may fall sick and die suddenly which is a risk that owners have to take.
Another resident of my village, Budhu Laxmi Debbarma, says that a pig has to be fed thrice a day. Their diet consists of leftover rice and vegetables, rice husks, and pechi (fermented rice leftover after brewing rice beer). She says that she sells the pig away once it becomes difficult to feed it anymore. “When the pigs become very big, they require more food than I can afford so I have to sell them after a year or so. Those who rear pigs only for profit usually rear them somehow and fatten them up.”
Pig rearing has become a very popular way of managing resources in rural areas of Tripura. Earlier only the indigenous Borok population used to rear pigs but these days non-tribals have also recognized the value of the animal. If you visit rural Tripura and hear a loud grunt now and then, rest assured, it must be from a pig tied in a backyard.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.