ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Emerging valuations of cereal crops and their cultures in South and Central Asia


Trivedi Nidhi - University of Groningen, Department of the Comparative Study of Religion, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, Groningen, Netherlands
Kesavan Indhubala - University of Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany
Kumar Suneet - University of Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany
Utetileuova Togzhan - University of Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany


07 – Towards Collaborative Research on Cereal Cultures in South Asia


 This paper examines crop selection in cereal production using cases from South and Central Asia. Rice and millets are staple cereals in western and southern Odisha, India, and wheat is a staple in Kazakhstan. These grains are central to food cultures i.e. practices, attitudes, and beliefs about food provisioning across diverse farming communities in India and Kazakhstan, and are a means to sustain and alter social relationships. On the one hand, various myths and oral epics about the origins of rice and millets are sung in western and southern Odisha, while in Kazakhstan, wheat is regarded as a keeper of social relations and a way to communicate with ancestor spirits (aruaktar). Thus, cereal cultures in these societies are embedded in “socio-cosmic fields” (Hardenberg 2016). However, factors like industrial agriculture dynamics, land distribution, new agricultural policies, labour and market forces, ecological conditions, rising health concerns, and food preferences bring complex changes into the forms of cereal production based on indigenous knowledge systems and local practices. The complexity involved then raises the question of how people value and select crops. We attempt to explain and discuss, based on our ethnographic field research, (1) how various value ideologies influence cereal provisioning, (2) how communities approach crop selection in the above contexts, and (3) what socio-cultural and political dynamics emerge around these cereals in Odisha and Kazakhstan.