Kutenpadar, a non-descript village in Odisha’s Kalahandi district, once infamous for starvation deaths and hunger in the 80s, is now a model village and the face of transformation as well as a symbol of women empowerment.
The people mostly dependant on forest products to eke out their living, now thank 45-year-old tribal woman Banadei Majhi, who is also referred as the "Mushroom Maa" (mushroom mother) in the district.
The determination and strong willpower to change the economic status of her family, has become a movement in the entire village after Banadei started mushroom cultivation from paddy straw after getting training at a Nabard camp in 2007-08.
Banadei’s family consists of herself, husband and four children. She belongs to a poor family which got two acres of government land which was highland and only fit to grow millets. Decades back like other villagers her family was also depending on forest and manual labour to arrange for two meals.
After basic training and trial cultivation for two years, Banadei started mushroom cultivation individually and soon became a role model. "I earn a net profit of more than one lakh rupees during the period from June to October through mushroom cultivation,” she said.
This apart, she also earns about Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 from vegetable cultivation, pulses and oilseeds for consumption of the family from the piece of land which was once lying fallow.
In the year 2010, she purchased a female goat for Rs 500 and after regular sales, now the family is having 45 goats. Her husband Jagabandhu and daughter Jagynseni help her in the day to day activities. Her one daughter was married off two years ago and two other sons are pursuing education in college.
Banadei is now constructing a new pucca house and her husband has also purchased a motorbike for marketing of the products.
Encouraged over the financial condition of Banadei, now 50 other households of the village have started mushroom cultivation and earning about Rs 50,000 a year apart from income from vegetable cultivation.
Banadei is also a master trainer to impart training to women in mushroom cultivation in 10 nearby villages.
She was awarded by Nabard for her contribution in the field of mushroom cultivation and women empowerment in 2010.
"She is the real model of women empowerment. She is a success story of commitment and dedication of a tribal lady," said the District Development Manager of NABARD, Malaya Kumar Meher.
Banadei said mushroom and vegetable cultivation has changed her life and of the villagers.
Kutenpdar village, 10 km from district headquarter town of Bhawanipatna, has 55 households predominated by tribals where 40 households are tribal.
A decade back the condition of the village was miserable. The entire village was dependent on selling wood collected from forests in Bhawanipatna town and growing some millets and pulses like Kandul in the high lands they possessed.
"Two meals a day was a pleasure treat for us. However, things have changed substantially after the intervention of the watershed programme supported by Nabard," she said, adding that the gully control, rainwater conservation trenches and the once fallow lands have turned lively with the recharge of groundwater.
Now 50 households out of 55 have adopted mushroom cultivation and all the households are raising vegetable cultivation on a commercial basis getting profit between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh per family from mushroom and vegetable.
Recently NABARD has declared the village as Mushroom village.
The economic condition has gone up and this once obscure small poor village now has 35 bikes. The lifestyle of villagers has improved and there is now zeal to educate their children.
Raju Majhi a villager said: "We learnt the tricks of mushroom cultivation by following Banadei and now reaping profit"