Farm Mechanisation Boosting Millets Cultivation By Women Farmers In Odisha

Millet cultivation and processing are highly labour intensive. Introduction of modern machines for weeding and husking of millets in Koraput has improved productivity, earning, and the health of the tribal farmers.

Pragati PravaPragati Prava   8 Aug 2023 6:23 AM GMT

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Farm Mechanisation Boosting Millets Cultivation By Women Farmers In Odisha

 Tribal women farmers of Koraput to enhance millet cultivation. All Photos by Pragati Prava.

Kandha Podapadar (Koraput), Odisha

In cities, multinational company officials are often spotted cycling to work to remain fit. But in remote tribal villages of Koraput in Odisha, components of a bicycle are helping further another health movement — millet cultivation.

Women farmers, who used to toil in farms for weeks together, bent from their waists to weed millet fields, are now using cycle-weeders to quickly finish the task in a couple of hours. A cycle-weeder is a farm implement developed by using inexpensive bicycle components.

And 55-year-old Kamala Khara swears by it. All she needs to do is to walk in the field with the one-wheel hand-held weeding machine that removes the unwanted plants.

“Weeding an acre of land used to take me nearly forty days. I spent hours bent from my waist weeding millet fields. And, I suffered from neck, back and knee pain for months together. However, with a cycle-weeder, I can do it in a mere four hours,” Khara from Kandha Podapadar village in Koraput, told Gaon Connection.

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Using a cycle-weeder has benefitted both her health and her productivity, the farmer said.

Women follow line transplantation and systematic millet intensification for better harvest.

Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), a non-profit that works for the promotion of millet farming in south Odisha, has provided cycle-weeders to tribal women farmers of Koraput to enhance millets cultivation. Since mechanisation has made the labour intensive crop less cumbersome, more and more farmers are coming forward to take up millets cultivation.

“Millet farming is hard work,” Ramesh Chandra Swain, from CYSD, told Gaon Connection. But organisations such as the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), the Odisha Millet Mission, and the CYSD, have helped reduce the toil of millet cultivation for the women by mechanising a lot of the process.

Apart from cycle-weeders, women farmers have been provided 26 pulverizers and 10 thresher-winnowers in Boipariguda block covering 20 gram panchayats in Koraput, informed Swain.

Traditionally, women used a heavy manual thresher or mushala, that involved a lot of physical effort to use. “It took an hour to de-husk a kilo of millets. However, now with the electricity-operated winnower and pulverizer machines, two to three quintals of millets are dehusked in an hour,” Prashant Kumar Parida, development coordinator of MSSRF, told Gaon Connection.

Swain added that a lot more mechanisation is needed to promote millet cultivation.

Also Read: Here’s What Agriculture Ministry Told Rajya Sabha When MSP Was Demanded For Horticulture Crops

‘A woman’s crop’ is how Parida describes millets.

“Women are at the helm of millet farming and perform almost all the activities starting from cultivation to post production. Men only prepare the land and take the millets to mandis for sale,” said Parida. But all other activities from sowing to selling are being done by the women, he added.

Alladin Khila from Kandha Podapadar has grown finger millet (mandia), foxtail millet (kangu), barnyard millet (khira), kodo millet, little millet (suan), sorghum (khedjana/jahna), and bajra (pearl millet) on her three acres of land this year.

“My father and grandfather grew millets on eight to nine acres of land every year, but the harvest used to be insufficient to meet the family requirements,” Aladdin told Gaon Connection.

But the recent interventions have changed that. “I harvested 24 quintals of finger millets. After keeping four quintals for my family, I sold the remaining 20 quintals at the mandi and earned over Rs 71,000,” she said happily.

Aladdin also intercropped the millets with pigeon pea, horse gram and black gram, besides vegetables.

Women have also set up millet kiosks in almost every village. These kiosks run by SHGs sell millet-based food items.

The boost in production, mechanisation of the processing, etc, has led to an increase in the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of the millets too. Odisha Millets Mission launched in 2017 is further helping millets farmers in the state.

“Earlier, we earned a meagre twelve to fifteen rupees per kilogram of finger millets. However, its MSP has gone up. It was Rs 2,800 per quintal in 2019, and now it is Rs 3,578 per quintal,” Hiramani Khara, millet farmer from Kandha Podapadar, told Gaon Connection (1 quintal = 100 kg). “Besides, we get the payment as soon as we sell our produce in the mandi,” he added.

Pitabas Barik has been promoting millet cultivation in Boipariguda block under the Odisha Millet Mission since 2017, and has witnessed the increase in farmer’s incomes.

According to Barik, an average family harvests eight to nine quintals of finger millets from an acre of land. They keep part of it for their own consumption and the remaining is sold.

Also Read: Ground Report: Livestock and livelihoods swept away in floods in Haryana

“Thus, the average earning of a family from millets per annum is around Rs 21,000 at Rs 3,578 per quintal,” said Barik.

“Women deposit the surplus money in their self help groups (SHGs), which in turn provide them financial security by giving them loans at a very nominal rate of interest,” he added.

Tula Khila from Kandha Podapadar said the money they are earning is keeping them out of the debt trap and improving the quality of their lives. “We can now buy bullocks, pump sets and use the money for our children’s education, constructing houses, meeting health expenses and celebrating festivals.”

Higher income from millets is helping improve the health status of tribal women. “Millets have enhanced the income of women and now they can afford to add eggs, meat and more vegetables to their family diet. This has led to improved nutrition in the tribal families,” Palanga Santa, an anganwadi worker at Kandha Podapadar, told Gaon Connection.

For instance, every morning, Radha Kila helps herself to some mandia jau (a gruel made of finger millet). The staple breakfast keeps her fuelled for her long day of work ahead in the millet fields surrounding her remote Kandha Podapadar village in Boipariguda block.

Higher income from millets is helping improve the health status of tribal women.

“Earlier, the harvest was not enough. Besides, we only made gruel and ragi balls (locally called mandia anda). Now, we have learnt a number of tasty millet recipes and we never get bored of millets,” Manika Khila of Padiaguda, told Gaon Connection.

Women have also set up millet kiosks in almost every village. These kiosks run by SHGs sell millet-based food items.

“In our kiosk, we make a profit of around Rs 200 everyday. We set up millet stalls in weekly markets and in different fairs at block, district and state levels. We get more profit there,” Daita Pujari of Padiaguda village, told Gaon Connection.

Meanwhile, plans are afoot to further promote millets in the state. “Each village needs at least one integrated processing unit — all processing facilities (de-husking, threshing, winnowing, grading, de-stoning, pulverising and packaging) at one place,” said Parida. There are plans to set up at least two to three integrated units in each panchayat of the block in the next couple of years, he added.

Pragati Prava is a Bhubaneswar-based journalist who writes on sustainability, conservation and indigenous communities.

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