International Women's Day 2020: Maharashtra women farmers return to grow indigenous varieties of rice

International Women's Day 2020: Maharashtra women farmers return to grow indigenous varieties of rice

Rashme SehgalUpdated: Monday, March 09, 2020, 06:38 AM IST
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Twenty-two-year-old Janvi Bhoir is an attractive young woman farmer living in a hamlet in Gaigotha belonging to the Nimboli grampanchayat of the Thane. Till four years ago, she, along with her husband and in-laws, were growing hybrid rice varieties hoping to earn more money. All that changed after interacting with field workers of Prasad Chikitsa NGO, they realised they stood to benefit far more if they went back to growing native indigenous varieties of rice.

“Private dealers would visit our hamlet frequently and tell us about the advantages of growing hybrid varieties such as Rupali, Jaya and Poonam. They told us how the farmers in the Tansa valley, of which Gaikotha is a part, were earning a huge amount of money by growing the hybrid varieties,” said Janvi, sitting in her spacious ventilated room, which has large sacks of rice stacked against the length of one wall. From the window of her pucca house, one can see a variety of vegetable and herbs growing in her kitchen garden at the back of her house.

“Obviously we were influenced. But growing hybrid varieties proved an uphill struggle because not only did we have to buy new seeds every year, but we also had to raise a lot of money to buy chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Four years ago, we interacted with field workers from Prasad Chikitsa who encouraged us to go back to growing our traditional varieties of rice,” said Janvi.

They gave us five kilos of free indigenous seeds so that they could grow some indigenous rice in a part of their land. Her husband Sunil and she decided to grow both traditional and hybrid varieties simultaneously and find out for themselves which would prove more advantageous.

“We found not only did the traditional variety give us a good yield but the input costs were little. Last year, we bought 20 kgs of seed from them and ended up harvesting 950 kgs rice. It will not be sold in the marketplace. Rather, we will use it for our own consumption,” Janvi explained.

A large number of white plastic bags filled with rice speak for the success of their efforts. The rice will provide them with a basic food security in 2020. They had opted to grow Javyachi Gundi, a native variety but there are several other varieties such as Zini, Dango, Kolpi and Mahadi also being promoted by Prasad Chikitsa.

Janvi describes herself as a ‘woman farmer’ as both her father-in-law and mother-in-law work seven days a week threading flower necklaces at the Shri Nityananda temple complex in Ganeshpuri for which they are paid Rs200 per day. Her husband works in a factory near Vasai leaving home at 8 am and returning at 8pm. So, all day-to-day farming responsibilities rest on her shoulders.

Isn’t she afraid that the rats will eat up this rice?

“We have kept a lot of cats for this reason,” Gundi retorted with a smile.

“The drive to neighbouring Kalambhori village is picturesque. The area lies at the foothills of the Tungareshwar National Park, which has wildlife including leopards. Teak trees with large rustling leaves dot both sides of the road. Village women bathing in the healing waters of the Tansa river, which has several hot springs, is a regular feature.

Kalambhori village seems to be more affluent with cars and bikes parked outside homes. Middle-aged Archana Bhoir, the woman farmer has four daughters and a son. Her eldest daughter is studying in Kosbad Agricultural Institute while second daughter is in Std XI at a government school, Vajreshwa­ri. Her younger daughters and son are studying in a primary and middle school. With her husband out at work and an ailing father-in-law, the entire day-to-day farming is being attended to by this doughty woman.

Archana and her husband Arun Nagobhoir, too, decided to go back to growing traditional rice following an interaction with field workers of Prasad Chikitsa. “This year I have grown mahadi rice, which is red and is both more filling and more nutritious than other hybrid varieties,” Archana said. Her living room doubles as a kitchen with a gas stove and cylinder and a bed room with cots at one side. A TV is kept at a side and as is a bicycle. She too has a number bags of rice stacked up against the entire length of a wall reaching up to the ceiling.

Archana is confident the surplus rice will be sold at Rs80 a kg. Some local markets that provide outlets are the weekly haat at the village of Mandvi, at the Chandansar market and Valvi near Virar. Since they own a 5 acre land, they can grow pulses (channa and val) and fresh vegetables that are also sold every week at the haat held in Mandvi.

Milind Nargund,special operations officer for Prasad Chikitsa said, “We started the ‘Return to Seeds’ program four years ago. Over the first year, we distributed free seeds to 20 farmers but now we buy seeds from them and sell these to other farmers. We have now reached out to 500 farmers and hope to increase our reach. We encourage them to grow organic vegetables and do floricultu­re by supplying them with organic seeds. In horticulture, farmers in the regi­on are encouraged to grow traditional tamarind, jamun, custard apple, cash­ew nut, mango, lem­on and custard apple and each farmer gets Rs100 a year as an incentive if their tree survives,” said Nargund.

Nargund worked closely with Sanjay Patil of BAIF Foundation, who has devoted his life to conserve traditional crops and seeds used by the tribals of Maharashtra. Patil and his volunteers have been working with farmers and SHGs propagating the need to return to their traditional style of farming.

BAIF volunteers would tell tribal farmers their grandparents used to eat over 100 varieties of rice, pulses and vegetables, this came down to 30-35 with their parents while for kids the number was reduced to a 4-5 varieties. The most villagers have taken to their roots.

Kalsubai Parisar Biyanee Savardhan Samiti in Akole, Ahmednagar has been working towards conservation and propagation of traditional crops and seeds and how important it is to conserve this vast gene pool.

Rahibai Soma Popere, the 54-year-old farmer has been working to spread the word among women farmers. Her efforts have borne fruit as she has helped to conserve 48 indigenous breeds of 17 different crops, including paddy, pulses and oil seeds.

BAIF’s efforts are bearing fruit. They have identified 64 varieties and are working with over 200 community leaders and reached out to over 5,000 tribal farmers in 5 districts. Farmers in Tansa valley realise the indigenous crops need less water and are more resilient to climate change. And that indeed is the need of the hour.

—The writer is a senior journalist and author of five books.

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