- A popular snack in India, makhana, is the seed of a water lily species, Euryale ferox, found in south and east Asia.
- For the region of Darbhanga in Bihar, both makhana and the wetlands they grow in, are very significant. Over 85% of India’s makhana comes from Bihar and almost a quarter of it is produced in Darbhanga’s wetlands.
- Almost 850 ponds in the district are currently used for makhana cultivation as per government documents. These wetlands therefore, are important for the state’s makhana cultivation and the livelihoods they support.
- However, the waterbodies are losing to pollution, illegal construction and encroachments.
A popular snack in India, makhana, is the seed of a water lily species, Euryale ferox, found in south and east Asia. When harvested, it is actually a tough blackish seed. It undergoes long and labourious stages of drying, heating, grading and roasting before it is popped to take on the white form as we know it. It then lands on our snack shelves and we eat it plain or in flavours like peri-peri, and schezwan. Makhana is also used to make traditional kheer, a milk-based pudding, and even curries.
For the historical region of Darbhanga in Bihar, makhana is one of its sources of pride. And so are the ponds they grow in. In fact, over 85% of India’s makhana comes from Bihar, and almost a quarter of it is produced in Darbhanga’s wetlands.
The wetlands therefore, are important for the state’s makhana cultivation. According to Bihar’s horticulture department, Darbhanga has about 2,000 waterbodies – ponds, tanks, flood water harvesting systems and so on, that occur naturally or are carved by humans. Almost 850 ponds in the district are currently used for makhana cultivation as per government documents. However, the waterbodies are losing to pollution, illegal construction and encroachments.
A 2001 study found traces of toxic metals like lead, chromium, copper and cadmium in ponds and in the makhana that grew in them. People who live near important wetlands also complain that garbage and drainages from the surrounding areas flow into these ponds.
Manoj Kumar, I/C Head and Senior Scientist, Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) shares, “Traditionally, makhana farming was happening in the ponds. There were a huge number of ponds, and lakhs of people were associated with the farming of makhana for their livelihood. As the number of ponds started to reduce and their quality started to deteriorate, we observed that, the total area used in makhana farming in several districts started to reduce drastically till eight to ten years ago.”
With waterbodies dotting the landscape, fish are also naturally an important part of the economy, diet and culture in Darbhanga. But bad news for wetlands is bad news for the fish and fisherfolk too. Raja Sahni, a fisherman from Darbhanga shares, “Now, in the ponds of Darbhanga, fish don’t grow too much. Fishermen are forced to sell only small fishes, because if they leave the fish in the pond for a longer time to grow more, they will die.”
Communities in Darbhanga have been involved in fishing and makhana farming for generations. Without these forms of urban biodiversity, their livelihoods and Bihar’s cultural heritage will be at stake.
This video was produced as part of ‘Environmental Video Reporting Opportunity‘ — a joint initiative of Mongabay-India and ALT EFF.
Banner image: Makhana from Darbhanga after they are dried and popped. Photo by Pranav Kumar/Mongabay.