Zeinorin Stephen Angkang, a Kofi Annan Changemaker 2021, runs Hill Wild Pvt Ltd, a confectionery firm in Ukhrul that uses locally-produced fruits and herbs in their products, and engages indigenous farmers for better livelihood.
There are an estimated 476 million indigenous peoples in the world living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world’s population but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
To raise awareness of the needs of these population groups, every 9 August commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, chosen in recognition of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations held in Geneva in 1982.
In honour of this year’s International Day of Indigenous Peoples, we interviewed Zeinorin about her work with indigenous farmers of the Tangkhul Naga tribe in Manipur.
Hi Zeinorin! You say your work is about ‘finding the sweet spot between farmers, products and the people who would love to get access to amazing products,” how and when did you start Hill Wild?
Four years ago, I founded my own organisation Hill Wild because I was not okay with the reality. I come from a Tangkhul Naga indigenous community of North East India where many have suffered, seen and lived in conflict. The failing and slow system led me to start a farming movement where we can share the indigenous flavours with the world, elevate livelihoods and share our stories.
The failing and slow system led me to start a farming movement where we can share the indigenous flavours with the world, elevate livelihoods and share our stories.
Hill Wild’s mission is to ensure food security among indigenous communities, engage with spice farming to generate better income, protect indigenous seeds and amplify indigenous voices. We offer our farmers a complete chain of seed provision, financial assistance, pest intervention, marketing and packaging support. This has lifted people out of poverty. We currently work with 2,000 farmers and are looking to scale up!
What does a typical working week look like for you?
My role includes motivating farmers, making the organisation sustainable, networking and collaborating. My business partner oversees operations and ensures the smooth running of our organisation. We work together towards a shared passion, goal and vision. I travel to villages often, as well as often being found behind my computer screen!
Why is it so important to share the traditions of Tangkhul Naga tribe?
Tribal food, including from my tribe Tangkhul, has a lot of wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is very resilient and holds knowledge and answers to modern-day broken food systems. I think it is very special. To be part of food security is what called me home. To start from my tribe, my community.
Why is food so important to you?
We are what we eat. Food nourishes our bodies. Understanding this nourishment, where it comes from, how it is grown, and who grows should be part of our life and knowledge.
What do you want people to know about indigenous farmers of Ukhrul?
The Tangkhul Naga indigenous community in North East India has the longest armed conflict in the world; it is still ongoing. Many have suffered, seen and lived in conflict. Ukhrul is known as the hotbed for insurgency and is cut off from almost everything. Farmers of Ukhrul are changing that narrative. It is also known as the land of clean air, blue skies and tasty produce – with some products so unique that they have been given a geographical indicator tag.
Ukhrul is known as the hotbed for insurgency and is cut off from almost everything. Farmers of Ukhrul are changing that narrative.
What is it like to work with indigenous farmers?
I learn every day. I am in awe of the patience and resilience of the farmers. Sometimes, the whole harvest can just be lost in a week of heavy rainfall, yet they regain the strength to continue the same cycle, without giving up. It is very fulfilling to relish what nature gives us season after season. It is also a huge challenge to eventually introduce a commerce and business point of view into that.
For many indigenous women farmers, every morning, they wake up early, make a fire, feed the pigs and chicken, cook a warm meal for everyone, eat together, tend their kitchen garden and proceed with their day. Working with them, we must understand this time factor and keep them motivated on the financial aspects to ensure sustainability.
What is your favourite product that you sell?
I love all of it, but my favourite is Sirarakhong chilli. It grows only in Sirarakhong, it’s on average around 8 inches in length, has a vibrant colour and is loaded with antioxidants. It’s just really mind-blowing. I have never had anything like it in my life.
How has being a Kofi Annan Changemaker impacted your work?
Being a Kofi Annan Changemaker has given me the validation I needed. Leading with compassion has become such a personal journey for me, too. I stopped living a victim’s mindset, and now I feel ready and prepared for any opportunities that come my way!
What message you would like to give to young people in today’s world?
Start developing a marathon mentality in whatever you do. You’ve got to be in something for the long haul!
And lastly, how can people support your work and the Tangkhul Naga tribe?
We look forward to collaborating to build a sustainable model that can be replicated in any part of the world. Please reach out for a conversation!