Lahari Bai belongs to the Baiga (healer) community, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) in Madhya Pradesh.

It is believed that the people from this tribe possess a deep knowledge of their environment and its biodiversity, which they pass on from one generation to the next through oral traditions.

Lahari, who hails from the remote village of Silpadi, started collecting seeds at the age of 18 years.

“People would mock me and ask why I was collecting seeds. So, at times, I would go when no one was around,” Lahari tells The Better India.

“These are taakat wala anaaj (the powerhouse of nutrition). People do not get sick after their regular consumption. It saves them from the expense of medicines,” she says.

For the past decade, the 27-year-old has collected more than 150 varieties of rare millet including kodo, kutki, sikiya, salhar, sawa, and chena.

“These native seeds are getting extinct. I want to bring them back in use,” she says.

She distributes these millet seeds to farmers for cultivation. In return, they give her a small part of the produce after they harvest the crop.

Lahari lives in a two-room mud house, of which one room is dedicated as a storehouse for the millets.

She also uses these seeds to make pej (a kind of drink) from kodo and kutki seeds. She drinks it along with takodey ki bhaji (forest vegetable).

Apart from distributing these seeds for free, Lahari does labour jobs and sells forest produce and firewood for a living. She manages to earn up to Rs 3,000 a month.

District Collector Vikas Mishra shared how Lahari was named as the brand ambassador of the ‘International Year of the Millet’ initiative.

“I met her one morning when I was on one of my regular tours to rural areas. I was impressed by her dedication to conserving millet seeds,” he said.

He added, “Two months ago in December, when the Government of India was making plans to lead, we decided to choose Lahari Bai as the brand ambassador.”