Of the 650+ indigenous groups who reside in or depend on forests, few match the simple ways of the Baiga of Central India.

Derided for their cults and shifting cultivation but acknowledged for their ancient customs of medicine, their hunting prowess and storytelling abilities, the Baiga hold many lessons that can be adapted to a post-pandemic world.

A report published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem in 2019said nature is declining less quickly on indigenous people’s lands than in other areas, and encouraged policymakers to draw lessons from the community stewardship of land.

  • The Baiga have a very low ecological footprint. They use leaves as plates, earthen pots to store water, a few aluminium utensils and some fishing nets to fish. They firmly believe in the philosophy of ‘less is more’.
  • Traditionally they have harvested plants based on a scheduled designed to minimise harm to the forest’s flora. No produce is over-exploited. So it’s not surprising that lands in Baiga protection are often more biodiverse compared to adjoining lands, especially in places where their reciprocal relationship with nature is still intact.
  • The Baiga can also effortlessly point out numerous herbs used to treat injuries from wild animals, venereal diseases and protection from ill omens as well, while protecting the rich Maikal landscape.
  • Baiga agriculture is opposed to ploughing the land because they believe it is akin to hurting Mother earth and tearing away at her breast. Instead, they prefer sowing a variety of pulses, coarse grains, vegetables and oilseeds, and supplement their diet with fish, hunted animals and an array of leaves and tubers from the forest.
  • The Baiga have rarely been malnourished because the tribe’s members would have access to some coarse grain such askodo and kutki, wild tubers or the nutritious liquid pej (made from ground millets) even during environmental crises.
  • Baiga deities live in the forests, and their communities nurture large tracts of land as sacred groves. The rules for the use of such forests are strictly governed by the community.
  • Herbs used to prepare medicines are never over-extracted to ensure their use is sustainable.

Ultimately, the Baiga can teach the modern world – currently under lockdown – about community living and togetherness.