This story was originally reported and written in Malayalam. Contributors from across India report, write and illustrate for us in a language of their choice.

“This broom removes dust from rice very well,” says Pratheesh K R, a 41-year-old researcher from Edavaka village in Mananthavady taluk. Pratheesh is talking about the kurunthotti choolu, a broom made from grass-like fronds of a plant with the same name. The choolu is used to brush the rice multiple times to get the grass and dust out. “No other choolu does it this well,” he adds. 

The choolu is a popular choice to clean freshly harvesed paddy in Wayanad. But it is also used for household chores. Homes in Wayanad traditionally have large yards with many trees. “A kurunthotti choolu can be used to rake up dried leaves fallen in the yard,” says Josmi M.J, a resident of Appappara, a hamlet in Thirunelly village. But this happens mostly in the summers. 

“Other brooms or rakes made from palm fronds, have sharp ends that dig into the soil when used,” the 24-year-old Josmi tells us. The soft ends of the choolu make it the preferred choice. He goes on to add, “During the rainy season, the yards get wet and slushy. So this broom cannot be used.” The soft ends are unable to efficiently sweep the damp and slushy ground.

Nizar Kanjayi of Anchukunnu village in Wayanad checks the kurunthotti plants to see if the stems are ready to be plucked and dried to make brooms. Photo by Swafvana N.

“Due to change in the climate these days, the growth cycle of the plant is getting affected,” says Josmi, a member of the Adiyan Adivasi community. 

The kurunthotti plant used to grow in the wild in abundance but now it is seen only in pockets, she adds. “The plants are plucked before the seeds from it can fall and grow into a new sapling. It is now common to see people collect the seeds and plant them,” she says. 

In Anchukunnu village, Nizar Kanjayi is collecting the stems of the kurunthotti plant which he has been drying outside his house. These dried stems will be bundled together to make a choolu. The long, thin plant usually grows in his farm. Only the stems are used when it is harvested annually to make brooms.

The 38-year-old farmer Nizar says, “People use the kurunthotti choolu even now in Wayanad.” He farms cash crops like tapioca, banana and ginger in his one acre farm.

The kurunthotti plant grows in the monsoon. “The plant is harvested at the end of southwest monsoon [in September],” he says. The fronds are dried in the sun and then bundled into brooms. “Any excess dried fronds are stacked and placed above the fireplace in kitchens so that they stay dry. They can be used later,” he adds. 

Recently, Nizar has also started selling his handmade kurunthotti choolu in a nearby market for Rs. 80 each. “I have just enough to sell to friends and family. But there is a good demand for it these days,” Nizar says. He sees a spike in demand for the choolu as it doesn’t grow as much as it used to. 

This story is part of a series reported by people from local and indigenous communities within the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. They are documenting the impact of climate change around them. The stories are part of a project by the Keystone Foundation with support from the Earth Journalism Network, in collaboration with PARI.

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Editor's note

Swafvana N. has a postgraduate degree in Malayalam literature. Interested in writing, she joined the short environmental journalism training course offered by Keystone Foundation, with support from Earth Journalism Network and People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) .

She says: “I chose to write about kurunthotti choolu because it is a practice exclusive to Wayanad and intrinsically linked to the monsoon. I wanted to pass this on to other readers.”