Millet based mixed farming to cope up with the weather externalities

Millets have very rich source of nutrition and it helps to address the issues of hunger and malnutrition. Millets constitute one of the oldest forms of source of food especially in the tribal areas. Millet requires less water and even grows in less fertile soil, high temperature and erratic soil condition.

Rayagada district comes under the backward Kalahandi-Bolangir- Koraput (KBK) region of the Odisha State. The upland which is mainly dependent on rainfall for cultivation has received a huge setback due to effect of climate change in view of the erratic rainfall, scanty rain, soil erosion due to forest depletion while the low land has witnessed flash floods that wash away the cultivation, washing away of broadcasted seeds and entire investment of the poor families. All combined together have threatened the food security of people, life and livelihood of the vulnerable tribal families who survive on subsistence economy. Despite all these odds there are wide range of resilient crops as well as skills with the farmers which gives assured crops even in land degradation and intense weather events.

In this backdrop Indo – Global Social Service Society through local NGO partner EKTA has taken up revival of millet based farming through drought resilient farming practices. The broad objective of this was to “reduce the climate change vulnerability by promoting nutrition sensitive millet cultivation with mixed farming of drought resilient species.

The People Led Development Approach (PLDA) laying importance on scaling of the resilient inherent practices existing with the community, further experimentation, demonstration with new villages and families and replication was the key strategy. Village Action Teams (VAT) and Village Development Associations (VDA) were the community based institutions strengthened   and involved in planning and execution of the strategy/approach. Participatory Capacity and Vulnerability Assessment (PCVA) was done with respect to understand the climate change variability, existing cropping pattern and land and water resources. Rise in temperature, erratic and sporadic rainfall, scarcity of water for irrigation and large chunk of unutilized fallow land and flash flood at the low land were identified as main concerns during community based vulnerability assessment.  

The elderly people named Mohan Miniaka, Janu Miniaka and Bursi Minaka, farmers of Minapai and Kurumunda villages, shared that earlier they used to grow different varieties of food grains in the high slope lands (Dangar) like Italian/Foxtail millet (Kangu/Aarka), Japanese Barnyard/Little black millet (Suan/Kohada/kosla),Spike/Pearl millet/Bajra (Kuya /Ghantia), White/Great Millet/Sorghum (Janha), varieties of Ragi (Mandia), Maize and Paddy  between June – September and  pulses like Red gram (Kandula), Carpet legume (Baila), Horse gram (Kolath) between June – January to February. These can be strategized to provide an effective platform for ensuring security of food/nutrition/ cash and resource restoration within the available capacity and the knowledge systems of the marginal families. These available knowledge system and resilient practices were revived to provide an effective platform for increasing food and nutrition security.

Cross learning sessions and exposure visits were organized among the practicing villages and also to new villages where farmers had shared their experiences and learning from the PLDA process. With this motivation, farmer clubs and seed committee for the promotion and preservation of traditional seeds and farmers’ group has to work for the revival of millet based mixed farming. Millet farming, mixed cropping, reduced tillage, growing legume crops and leaving crop residues are the practices being emphasized. Varieties of millets with pulses have been encouraged to use.  The short and early variety of millet varieties to adapt to the increasing incidence of late rain was discussed. Crop rotation was another adaptation focused by cultivating the alternate field to sustain the level of productivity and the quality of the seeds. Millets/Ragi/Sorghum and Jowar are grown with pulses. Gainful use of slope land, strip land, up-plain land, bunds and ridges has helped the farmer. The women farmers played crucial role in seed collection, selection, preservation and storage of the local resilient varieties. They have started contribution in the seed bank in the form of their best quality seeds for using them during critical time. Conservation of traditional and local varieties of millet seeds also is promoted at village level through Seeds bank and Grain bank towards its promotion and conservation.

Most of the millets are being cooked as rice while the foxtail millet ( Kangu) and Pearl millet  ( Bajra) as Upama. While the white millet (Sorghum) they make powder and prepare it with the Ragi. While most of the time they consume Ragi as soup. Most of the ladies are of the opinion that millet gives them energy to climb the hills and keep the stomach filled for a long time in comparison to rice.

The availability of nutritious food has increased at house hold level through increased millet production. Although millet is main food throughout the year but they also  sell it at the time of cash need. Due to lack of effective marketing facility the needy families often sell it to the local buyers who come to the village and collect the crops from the farmers after harvesting  in relatively lower price as compared to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) declared by the Government. The farmers are selling millets in the local market due to lack of agro processing and value addition opportunities. They take small quantity of millet to market and sell them to purchase daily  need and household items, seed and other goods. Some farmers sell their produces during the month of May and June towards meeting their agricultural related expenses. The future focus will be on household consumption by adding recipes, enhancing the production and value addition on marketing linkages. Conservation and propagation traditional and local varieties of millets through seed banks would be further strengthened. The nutrition value and the climate resilience capacity of millets will help the marginalized farmers towards food and nutrition security effectively.

Written By : Krushna Chandra Sahu

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