Odisha and poverty are almost synonymous. The greenery and beauty are the assets of the state. One of Odisha’s districts, Kandhamal, is infamous for its poverty and malnutrition. In Kandhamal’s Kadopida village, 35-year old Ranjulata is a hardworking woman who owns two acres of land. Despite this land, Ranjulata’s family used to struggle to acquire two meals a day due to low paddy production. They would produce only 300 to 400 pounds of paddy per acre because they were using traditional methods of paddy cultivation. These conventional approaches do not incorporate modern technologies.
Ranjulata remembers these days: “It was a hard time, when, my husband and I would toil hard, but would get hardly three quintal (~300 pounds) per acre which used to be sufficient for four to six months only and to meet our round the year food expenses we needed to work in others farms and places. We would work in our village as daily wage workers and sometimes migrate from our own house for the remaining four to six months. My children stopped going to school to help us in getting cash through labor. We were really helpless; life was very hard as if our destiny was to live in the web of poverty and vicious cycle of loans and debts.
We came across Pathways – a women’s collective in our village. They started working with us through SHGs (self-help groups) and women from poor and marginalized women and families came together. They told us about the benefits of groups, savings, opened our account in banks. We women started monthly saving and deposited some amount in banks. After some time when we discussed our problems of agriculture and less production with Pathways, they gave us various exposures and told us about new techniques of agriculture. We were excited to do all these in our limited land, though it was risky and it was really difficult to convince our elderly people, who were doing agriculture since generations with their own understanding and methods. To change the mindset and bring a change in agriculture patterns was really difficult, but after discussions the community agreed to change the methods with the hope to get more production.”
Pathways interventions have helped marginalized farmers raise paddy yields through the application of some basic technologies such as germination tests, line sowing, and summer ploughing. The interaction with Ranjulata revealed that the germination test of paddy has huge impact in the yield of paddy. Summer ploughing and line sowing has advanced the yield of about 30-40 percent in comparison to earlier yield.
Ranjulata explains the benefits and the changes she has experienced because of adopting these basic techniques of paddy cultivation. Compared to the previous food shortages that Ranjulata’s family experienced, today, “there is lot in our plate and we get nutritious food every day and due to this we are keeping ourselves healthy. SHG has become a boon, when we want a petty amount for our day-to-day needs, we take loans and pay in time; this is how we are not in the grab of local Sahukars who would suck our blood by imposing huge interest on meager amount. Now we are living a peaceful life”. Ranjulata said she has Rs 7000/- in her saving account and her face was glowing with pride. She is now able to send her son to school and to produce food for the entire year.
Ranjulata is just one example of the many women who prove that hard work and support can help improve the status of families and communities. Today, Ranjulata doesn’t have to worry so much about the day-to-day nutritional needs of her family. Instead, she can focus on her children’s education and overall health. She manages group activities in addition to her family responsibilities and has become a leader in her village through Pathways and a role model for other women.
Contributed by: Dr. Pradip Mohapatra