Cultivating the landscape: Enhancing the context for plant improvement
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Mazhar, Farhad; Buckles, Daniel. 2001. Cultivating the landscape: Enhancing the context for plant improvement . In: An exchange of experiences from South and South East Asia: Proceedings of the international symposium on Participatory plant breeding and participatory plant genetic resources enhancement, Pokhara, Nepal, 1-5 May 2000 . Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Participatory Research and Gender Analysis (PRGA), Program Coordination Office, Cali, CO. p. 55-60.
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Bethua shak (Chenopodium album L. of the family Chinopodiaceae) is not a cultivated plant in Bengal, but it's hard to imagine the rural cuisine of Bengal without this vegetable. It is an important leaf Y vegetable just like any cultivated cabbage or spinach, its secure position in the food system of Bangladesh can easily be traced through many songs and stories, such as the bhawaia from North Bengal. There are few Bangladeshi who have not heard or are aware of the song. Not long ago, the bethua was available in plenty, it used to grow a10ng with winter crops in every field of potato, mustard, or lentil. Farmers considered it a partner crop and part of the total yield of a plot. It was not just consumed by the poor or during stress conditions when food was not readily available. Rather, it was an integral part of the food culture of Bengal. Consider, for example, the typical Bengali literary epics like "Monosha Mongol" and note what Sanaka, the wife of Chand Sawdagar, is cooking, the major place 15 given to the vegetables that are uncultivated, One by one she cooks 10 shaks, or uncultivated leafy vegetables, including the leaves of chalta. Bethua shak, gima shak, kumra shak, etc. These are cooked as delicacies, as the supreme expression of her art of cuisine. Also see "Padma Puran" where Tarakasundai is cooking for Lakshmindar. She cooks nalita shak. gima shak, kumra shak; helencha, banana flower, and many others. The author says that if he lists all the food items the book will be too long and the poems may fail to describe the subtle elements of the plants and the art of cooking. This old Iiterature clearly indicates that this knowledge belonged to a highly refined and sophisticated rural cuísine, despite deep class and gender differentiations. In areas of contemporary intensive agriculture, bethua is no longer available, or if it ¡s, rural people don't collet it because consuming it would mean consuming the pesticides applied to the field. Yet bethua and other uncultivated plants are still an important source of food for the poorest of the poor in the ecologically degraded rural areas of Bengal, once the high points of agro biodiversity and local knowledge systems. It is clear from what research has been undertaken that the poor and the marginal populations retain the culinary art, knowledge, and skill that took hundreds of years to evolve. This article suggests that we recognize this vital context in our work with communities and when trying to improve crops.
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