Oceans and Coasts

Nature-food dynamics in Lakshadweep

Changing nature-food relationships in Lakshadweep islands: What can past and current food practices tell us of societal connections with local nature

Team members: Rajeswari B.T., Rohan Arthur, Seema Mundoli, Harini Nagendra, Suri Venkatachalam, Al Badush

Project timeline: 2023 - Ongoing

Food practices are a blend of culture, history, and local geography, which together reflect the rich traditions and identities of individuals and societies. Importantly, people’s relationship with food is a mirror of how they use and relate to their natural resources. Food practices can serve as a way to characterize the complex and multifaceted relationship humans have with nature. In traditional, resource dependent cultures, this relationship is particularly clear, since the food cooked in households is often based on resources derived locally - from nearby forests or seas, from orchards and farms, from kitchen gardens and from domesticated food animals kept around the house. One of the biggest impacts of modernity is a shift in this close nature-food relationship, as the local environment no longer becomes the primary source of food, and communities become increasingly dependent on materials from more distant sources, produced, packaged, distributed and sold as part of more global distribution systems. This shift in reliance could change the way local communities connect to their local environment, both in material as well as emotional/affective ways.

Many habited small islands are often characterized by resource scarcity. Small land areas, poor soils, limited water supply, and high population densities make it often difficult to dedicate much space for food production. In addition, their relative isolation can make it difficult to access food materials from distant mainland sources. As a result, many island societies have depended much more on resources derived from nearshore and offshore waters, which are often rich and productive environments for food. With transport networks improving over the last century. However, the isolation of these island systems is rapidly reducing, and island societies can benefit much more easily from the global food distribution system. In addition, with increasing urbanization and exposure to global attitudes towards food, island systems are also changing in their food habits.

In this project, we are documenting the food practices in the Lakshadweep archipelago Lakshadweep has very limited natural resources. Although it meets most of its protein requirements from the sea and from domestic animals, it has been highly dependent on mainland India for essential food commodities including rice and vegetables. The islands also have dense coconut plantations and many houses have kitchen gardens to supplement islanders’ food requirements. Our team worked and lived in Lakshadweep for over two decades, and have witnessed significant change in relationships with food and nature in this period. The islands in the archipelago are at different stages of urbanisation. The capital, Kavaratti is rapidly transforming into a dense urban centre with a large multicultural population of expatriates, many other islands still remain relatively isolated and rural. Through this project, we are expecting to understand the nature of this change and valuable insights into how island societies perceive their local environment, and how much they continue to depend and value nature around them.

The main objectives of the study are:

1. To explore how urbanization and connectivity influence food practices and natural resource dependence (both land and sea) in Lakshadweep.

2. To characterize changes in community relationships with the natural geographies of Lakshadweep through the lens of food.

3. To document seasonal patterns in food practices related to natural cycles, resource availability, and cultural calendars.

We have been observing and understanding from the interviews the food patterns have been changing faster in the islands which are more urbanized and connected to the mainland.

            In a place like limited special area and other natural resources also far from the mainland, and the hustle and bustle. People have been interacting, connecting and depending on their natural resources in different ways. Some of the pictures that we collected through time about life in different islands in Lakshadweep.