A Farmer, a Leader, an Entrepreneur and a Businesswoman

By: Sabnam Aferin
Edits: Kanna K Siripurapu
From Nirman Odisha

With an electrifying smile and fire in her eyes, the story of Smt. Mahakud is exemplary!

A Farmer, a Leader, an Entrepreneur and a Businesswoman, Smt. Binodini Mahakuda (63), is the resident of Nuamunda village located in Tumudibandha Gram Panchayat, Tummidibandha Block of Kandhamal Distirct, of Odisha. The village has 54 households (HHs) and the population predominantly belongs to the other backward castes (OBC) category. Only one HH of the village belongs to the scheduled tribe (ST). Smt. Mahakud, lives with her family, which includes her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. Her family belongs to economically backward class and falls in the below poverty line (BPL) category. The family has no patta land to cultivate but owns only .50 decimal homestead land.

Indigenous agriculture practices, crop diversity and indigenous heirloom seed diversity had been eroding in the region, including Nuamunda village. Residents of the village have been gravitated towards cash crops and abandoned the traditionally grown food grains of millets. The government had been pushing the local farmers to adopt high yielding hybrid varieties, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers under the state supported OTELP programmes. In addition, close proximity of the village to local market had been also contributing to local farmers gravitating towards cash crops, use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. However, maize and finger millets are the only indigenous crops still cultivated by local farmers and much of the traditionally cultivated indigenous food crops have been disappeared from the village. As a result, food and livelihood insecurity of local communities in the region, including Nuamunda village has spiked over the years.

NIRMAN with the project support of CWS (Centre for World Solidarity) has intervened in the area in the year 2011. A Jaibika Krushaka Sangha had been formed at Nuamunda village by the NIRMAN to create awareness about the impacts of toxic chemicals and synthetic fertilizers and the benefits of organic farming. Smt. Mahakud had been one of the active participants of the Krusaka Sangha. NIRMAN has supplied heirloom seeds of few indigenous vegetables to farmers of the village. Smt. Mahakud has also received her share of heirloom seeds, she has cultivated them in the kitchen garden of her own backyard land with the support of her daughter-in-law. In the first year she reaped a good harvest and the family used it for own consumption. The same year, she has collected and preserved good quality vegetable heirloom seeds from the harvest and saved them for the next cropping season. She says that kitchen garden produces enough vegetables for her family. She has started sale of surplus produce of eggplant and okra at the local market. During the present harvest season, she already collected and preserved heirloom seeds of ridge gourd, eggplant, okra and cow pea, which she will use during the next cropping cycle. She says that the seed collection and preservation techniques she learned during training organized by NIRMAN on heirloom seed extraction and preservation very useful.

A Leader, Entrepreneur and Businesswoman, Mrs. Mahakud, dons many hats, she is not just a farmer, she is an avid heirloom seed collector and seed conservationist, in addition and most importantly, she is a local leader, an entrepreneur and a seasoned businesswoman. She is the President of the local self-help group (SHG), Maa Gojabayani Swayam Sahayak Dala. She says that village HHs, especially women suffered from inadequate financial circumstances and lack of proper access to credit during emergencies. They were bound to borrow money, often for healthcare, funerals or even food, from local, private money-lenders for a very high interest rate. To address this issue, she along with few other progressive women folk of the village took the lead and formed the SHG. Members of the SHG saves little amounts on a monthly basis. The pooled amount is used for giving soft and loans with interest to members of the group.

Mrs. Mahakud, also played a major role in motivation of SHG members to start business. The SHG under her leadership started sale of rice, which unfortunately did not taste success. The SHG then tried at sale of oil, but suffered a serious setback. However, neither the SHG members nor she were discouraged from the unfavorable outcomes. They remained determined and took up processing and sale of medical forest products of amla, harada and bahada. The SHG under her leadership has signed an agreement with the Dabur to supply value added NTFPs (amla, harada, and bahada), and the SHG has already supplied 20 quintals of Amla, 10 quintals of harada and 10 quintals of bahada, to Dabur during the current year. While most of the SHGs of this region have either sunk in debts from default bank loans or become defunct, the SHG of Nuamunda sailed and tamed the tides. Smt. Mahakud, set an example of good leadership, with her clear vision and active participation the steered the SHG towards profits and doing profitable business, that too without taking any loans from the bank or other credit institutions. With an electrifying smile and fire in her eyes, the story of Smt. Mahakud is exemplary!

Why a Filmmaker Left Behind the Glitz & Glam of the Industry to Take up Farming in a Village

From: thebetterindia.com, author: Manabi Katoch “I can’t have right to tell the youth of the villages to stop migrating while I continue to enjoy the city life. So I opted to stay here and become a part of their life,” says Saraswati Kavula.

Read more …

A Champion organic SRI farmer in Cambodia

Ms. Nhem Sovannary, a farmer in Po Preah Sang village, Taphem commune, Tramkak district, Takeo province, was awarded first prize in 2013 and third prize in 2014 during the SRI national competitions, organized by CEDAC. She has 1.5 ha of rice fields, 800 m2 homegarden, 8 cattle, 100 chickens and a biogas.

Read the full article on the ALISEA

SRI is changing lives in India’s heartland

When Anil Verma’s PRAN (Preservation and Proliferation of Rural Resources and Nature) approached paddy growing women farmers in Gaya district of Bihar, asking them to try SRI (System of Root Intensification) in their fields, he was met with disdainful looks. It sounded too good to be true, especially to farmers who had been growing paddy for generations. One lady, Kunti Devi, stood up and agreed to try it (‘Out of pity for us’, Anil says). Kunti Devi was given a tiny plot of land by the Government of Bihar, but it was barely enough to grow what she needed. After trying SRI, the results from her field were amazing, with her paddy crop getting record yields. She had surplus cash and was finally able to send her children to school.

Read more from the original article on The Alternative

 

Miyatty Jannah’s story

The Experiences of an SRI farmer Ms. Miyatty Jannah, East Java, Indonesia

Adapted from Report on Visit to Indonesia to Review SRI Progress, January 11-18, 2008 –

Norman Uphoff, CIIFAD

Visit to Aliksa Organic SRI Training Center at Nagrak (Thursday, January 17)

Thursday morning, we traveled south of Jakarta to this training center operated by a new NGO, Aliksa, which is promoting organic SRI production. Victor Lee and I left the hotel in Jakarta at 7:30 accompanied by Ms. Miyatty Jannah,an SRI farmer-leader and one of Aliksa Consultants’ farmer cadre, all of whom are prepared to do training and advising of other farmers for practicing organic SRI. Miyatty had been invited to travel with us because she was one of the few SRI farmers who spoke much English. She gave us a very professional business card, with both home and cell phones listed. She lives in the village of Crawuk, located in Widodaren subdistrict (kecamatan) of Ngawi district (kabupaten) in East Java.

Miyatty’s command of English was impressive, the more so because it was self-taught, having had only three years of formal schooling. Victor told me that Miyatty learned her English as a young woman from watching televisions shows while babysitting in the homes of richer households who had TVs. He commented that the television series ‘McGyver’ had been one of her favorite programs, which explained why, when she responded to my questions, she often said “Yep” instead of “Yes.”

The two-and-a-half hour drive to Nagrak, south of Sukabumi which is south of Bogor which is south of Jakarta, went fast with our conversation. Miyatty cultivates three hectares of SRI rice, one personally and two with hired labor. She cannot do more herself, she said, because she now spends a lot of time in Aliksa activities. (Aliksa is an NGO that promotes organic SRI in various parts of Indonesia.) Her yields have gone from 5 t/ha before SRI to 7 t/ha now, a 40% increase. She is happy with this because her costs have been reduced at the same time.

Moreover, she gets a premium price for her SRI paddy, 300 rupiahs/kg, simply because of its higher quality. This adds another 15% to her income from paddy, over and above the higher yield and reduced costs. She said that she doesn’t have to tell the merchant that the rice is higher-quality SRI paddy; he can see the difference and pays her more for it without any haggling.

When she first heard about SRI, four years ago, she contacted Pak Alik through our Japanese SRI colleague Shuichi Sato and invited him to come to her village and train its farmers in the new methods. [Aliksa was founded by Alik and Sato, a Japanese SRI colleague, hence its name.] Alik brought with him Sutarmin from Public Works (PU) and also a third person. (Sutarmin was already training farmers in SRI methods at the PU training center in Bandung, as noted in my trip report from September 2005: http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/countries/indonesia/indotrep905.pdf.)

Miyatty personally covered the costs of their stay in her village for four days, training 35 farmers in SRI methods. Only 10 of these farmers would try out the methods, however; and there was a lot of resistance at first, even abuse, she said. “The whole village was against us at first: ‘You are stupid,’ they said when they saw the transplanted SRI plots: ‘You will get nothing.’ ”

There was “really a strain,” Miyatty recollected, “it was really, really hard. People were talking bad things about SRI.” She had to convene many meetings among the ten SRI farmers, to discuss among themselves and to keep them all continuing. “One husband and wife were not talking with each other. They almost divorced. Even government people were coming and asking about this SRI. I explained what I understood, but they didn’t believe me and didn’t support us. But I continued. There were so many problems. Pak Alik came once again, and only 20 of the original 35 farmers were willing to meet with him.”

“But when harvesting was done, people came and said, ‘Wow. How did that happen from such small seedlings?’ All the people were surprised. With less water and less money, we had 40-50% more paddy. People from other villages came and asked us how we did this. So I went to other villages. But always there is the same problem: at first there are lots of tensions and problems, But the problems go away once they see the results.” It is always gratifying to hear this account of the first introduction of SRI among ‘disbelievers,’ although this story is by now quite familiar.
Miyatty added something that was consistent with other reports that I had heard on the social impact of SRI; however, she was more detailed. (Victor confirmed this, saying he has plans to do a video on this subject in her village.) “Now, after harvest the SRI farmers come together, and each household brings one kg of rice and some vegetables and a little money, and they all cook a big feast and eat together.” This sounded like an Indonesian version of the American Thanksgiving holiday. “There is so much solidarity among the SRI farmers,” she added.

We discussed how SRI is spreading in her area, mostly farmer-to-farmer. She is the most active proponent in her area, but other farmers are also helping now. The government efforts so far have not been a big factor. The Department of Agriculture allocated 1 million rupiahs ($100) for a one-hectare demo plot, but the farmer who provided the land and who did all of the work was paid only 150,000 rupiahs, Farmers want to know where the rest of the money has gone, a familiar question.

“The government SRI and my SRI are different things. The government is not successful, because for the officials, SRI is only a project.” However, now officials are starting to take a more positive view of SRI, she said, “not like when I started four years ago. There is a very warm heart for SRI in my area.” All of this was reported matter-of-factly, not boasting, as that would be out of keeping with local culture.

It turned out that Miyatty had met Sato-san first in 1996 when he was working in Sumbawa as a Nippon Koei technical advisor. She had impressed a Japanese colleague of his with her English and her ‘activist’ approach, so he asked Sato-san to try to find some employment for her. She began working in the project office, further improving her English and learning clerical skills. Her acquaintance with Sato-san had made her more willing to give some credence to SRI when she heard about it.

“There is a feeling among farmers that some government people are afraid of SRI, because it is ‘too good’,” she said. “They fear it will reduce their power, because it makes farmers less dependent on them. And there is no way for them to make money from SRI, like they can when they are handling seeds, fertilizer, etc.”

People come to her now to buy her SRI paddy. While the regular retail price is 5,000 rupiahs per kilo, she can get 10,000 rupiahs ($1) for organic SRI. However, only better-off people can afford to pay this price, and at present she has no stock left to sell. So she needs to expand further her production.

We discussed the ‘System of Intensification and Diversification’ (SID) that is being promoted by our NGO partner CEDAC in Cambodia, where smallholding farmers with as little as half a hectare take half of their paddy land out of rice production, and build a fish pond on this land that has been redeployed to alternative production — growing fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc. I will send her the manual that CEDAC has prepared on this with details of five farmers’ experience (manual available at: http://ciifad.cornell.edu/sri/countries/cambodia/cambSidMPREng.pdf).

Miyatty said that this could work well for her since she now has a pump for accessing groundwater and she can control her water use. At the SRI Harvest Festival in Cianjur last July, she was one of 5 farmers who received an award from President Yudhoyono with the promise of a mechanical shredder to make compost more easily. But this has not been delivered to her yet.

Miyatty discussed how Aliksa regards SRI as having ethical, even religious dimensions. It relates to “virtuous” activity, having respect for the environment and bringing opportunities to the poor. Even some imams have preached about SRI in the mosque, she said. It is consistent with the Muslim way of life, which advises people to share, and also to rely on reason rather than passion.

After two and a half hours, we reached Nagrak, where the Aliksa SRI Organic Training Center is located. There we were met by Ahmed Jatika, another founder of Aliksa, who has contributed the land for construction of the center here and also for a training center in Depok, on the southern edge of Jakarta (which I visited the next day). . . .

Full report is at http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/countries/indonesia/indoNTUtrep0108.pdf

 

 

Women Strong – Lotus Foods

(See the original from Lotus Foods)

The world’s global rice supply is literally produced on women’s backs. Women growing rice is the largest single livelihood activity in the world.

Women are thus central not just to sustaining global food security and nutrition, but also for the environmental management of a large portion of the world’s cultivable land.

Women generally do the arduous, back-breaking repetitive work of uprooting and transplanting seedlings, weeding and harvesting.

Rice is mostly grown under flooded conditions and mainly in the wet or summer season, requiring women to work long hours under the hot sun or in rain, in standing water, under unhygienic conditions, and exposed to numerous chemicals, parasites and various disease vectors.

In a cropping season, women can spend 400-500 or more hours bent or sitting in standing water per acre of rice grown to uproot seedlings from flooded nurseries, transport them to main fields, transplant them and weed the fields. Check out this photo of women uprooting rice seedlings in Mali! They sit this way for days and days. Photo by Erika Styger.

Malian_women_pulling_seedlings_1000px

The work and exposure to diseases and chemicals in the flooded fields leads to chronic and acute illness, which undermines the health and welfare of women around the world, and thus also agricultural productivity and food security.

They also have to tend other crops or livestock, collect wood and water, cook, care for family, and sometimes do wage labor or market small products.

Women are taking on ever more responsibility in managing rice production as more men seek work off-farm to generate needed household income, a process characterized as the ‘feminization of agriculture’.

Current private and public sector strategies to raise agricultural productivity promote more new seeds and agrochemicals, which means women’s exposure to toxic chemicals in increasing, with implications not only for their health but for that of their unborn children.

So how does MCPD/SRI disrupt this anti-women bias?

MCDP dramatically reduces the pain, drudgery and time required by women to grow rice.

Work in flooded fields is minimized or eliminated. There is a reduction in labor time (about half) and lightening of work due to fewer and younger seedlings to manage, and also a reduction in repetitive motions and time spent in bent postures. Weeding is done in an upright position with a weeder, and men are more likely to assist with weeding when there is a mechanical tool.

Women can use freed time for other domestic or farm activities, producing more profitable cash crops on land they can take out of paddy. Many women start their own small business or become farmer-leaders training others on SRI. Women using SRI/MCPD methods note an improvement in their health and diets, with more time to eat and rest. Higher incomes improve family quality of life.

SRI and its Impact on Women

Women and Rice Farming: Feeding the World

(From SRI-Rice. See the original: SRI and its Impact on Women)
More women are involved in rice cultivation than in any other livelihood activity, an estimated 500 million women worldwide. Their knowledge, labor and skill produce not only food and income for their families, but contribute to global food stocks. Growing rice is a labor-intensive undertaking, requiring physically-demanding work throughout the cropping season, performed usually in unsanitary conditions. Research and development strategies to raise rice production that focus mostly on new seeds and agrochemical inputs do not take into account the impacts that rice-growing has on women’s bodies, their time, their health, and their lives.

 

Throughout the world, the declining profitability of farming and particularly of rice farming has resulted in out-migration of men for jobs in cities and towns, leaving women with primary responsibility for farming. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is gaining popularity around the world in large part due to its appeal to women.

 

Women benefit from using SRI practices in many ways, including:

I. Increased Food Security and Improved Nutrition
With SRI, productivity is higher. Yields are increased on average 20 to 50% and often doubled and tripled. Families can go from food-deficit to self-sufficiency and even surplus in several seasons. As most families produce rice primarily for home consumption, when they have enough for their own needs they can remove some land from paddy production and grow fruits and vegetables or raise poultry to supplement their diets and income.

 

II. Increased Incomes and More Livelihood Options
Income improvements are achieved by lower input costs, higher productivity, more livelihood options, and in many cases fewer medical expenses. A study of the gender effects of SRI adoption in Cambodia, commissioned by Oxfam America, found female adopters reporting that savings from purchasing fewer seeds and using less fertilizer was a chief advantage [1]. The analysis found that by lightening the burdens of farming, SRI was making it possible for family members to seek employment beyond agriculture and for families to construct a more diverse portfolio of activities to improve their standard of living. Lighter workloads for women give them more time to do other things, such as backyard livestock-raising, fish-farming, and vegetable-growing. Cash crops like vegetables can generate more market income than rice [2].

 

III. Less Unsanitary Working Conditions, Less Exposure to Chemicals
With fields no longer constantly flooded, women do not have to stand or squat in muddy water for hours, pulling up and transplanting seedlings or weeding. This reduces their skin irritations, gynecological ailments, and other illnesses that occur from prolonged exposure to water on body parts and to water-borne disease vectors (e.g. mosquitos, snails). Exposure to herbicides, pesticides and insecticides applied to paddies is also reduced. In Mali, below left, women spend days sitting in mu spared this, transplanting into aerobic soils fewer and younger seedlings that recover more quickly from transplanting shock.

 

IV. Less Work, Less Pain and Drudgery
Conventional rice cultivation requires about 250-300 8-hour days of labor to cultivate 1 hectare of rice. With SRI, the numbers of seeds and plants involved is reduced dramatically, as spacing between plants is widened and plant populations are only 10-20% as much as traditionally (next page, top right). This means women also have much smaller nurseries to manage. A study of the gender impacts of SRI for women in Odisha state of India found that transplanting operations go much faster in SRI rice production, with less painful labor for women [3].

 

Also, weeding, traditionally done by women by hand, is facilitated with SRI because a mechanical hand weeder is used (next page, top left). This greatly reduces the time required and permits upright rather than bent posture.

 

A study in Andhra Pradesh, India found that mechanical weeders reduced women’s labor time for weeding by up to 76%, also reducing physical discomfort from this work [4]. In some parts of India, men take over the task of SRI weeding because cultural norms expect them to do ‘mechanical’ work. A study in Tamil Nadu, India found that men’s labor in rice cultivation was increased for this reason by 60%, while women’s workload in rice production was reduced by 25%. Both genders gained from a 115% increase in net income per hectare [5].

 

V. Enhanced Status within the Family and Community
Although not a direct result of adopting SRI practices, many NGOs that promote SRI as a strategy to reduce rural poverty specifically engage women. They create village self-help groups and develop training programs tailored to women. In Vietnam, it was found that women attend classes more regularly and share information and skills more broadly with family and friends than men do, thus accelerating impact [6]. Women are trained as farmer-leaders, gaining confidence and enhanced status in the family and community.
One of the effects of rural poverty is that women and girls are more vulnerable to exploitation. In both India and Cambodia, NGOs have used SRI to raise farm income and food security to reduce the incidence of human trafficking [7]. Much of the grassroots leadership for the dissemination of SRI has come from women who, on their own, have spread the word about SRI, and who have actively promoted SRI village-to-village [8].

 

One woman SRI farmer/trainer/ activist in Bihar state of India, coming from one of the lowest and poorest social groups in her society, has been elected as a member of that state’s Legislative Assembly [9]. In West Bengal, women are starting to exert their influence in political arenas for policies that support sustainable farming [10].

 

REFERENCES

[1] B.P. Resurreccion, E.E. Sajor and H. Sophea (2008). Gender Dimensions of the Adoption of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Cambodia. Report for Oxfam America, Phnom Penh, December.

 

[2] C. Hufstader (2014). Growing more, but working less. Oxfam America blog, January 22.

 

[3] S. Sabarmatee (2013). Understanding dynamics of labour in System of Rice Intensification (SRI): Insights from grassroots experiences in Odisha, India. Presentation of PhD thesis research, Wageningen University, Netherlands.

 

[4] A. Mrunalini and M. Ganesh (2008). Work load on women using cono weeder in SRI method of paddy cultivation, Oryza, 45: 58-61.

 

[5] T.M. Thiyagarajan (2004). On-farm evaluation of SRI in Tamiraparani Command Area, Tamil Nadu, India. Presentation to World Rice Research Congress, Tsukuba, Japan, November 4-7.

 

[6] Nguyen Xuan Nguyen et al. (January 2010). Study on adoption of the System of Rice Intensification in Northern provinces of Vietnam. A report by commissioned by Oxfam America. Presented at the 28th International Rice Research Conference, 8-12 November 2010, Hanoi, Vietnam.

 

[7] T. Rehman, Young girls face trafficking as lack of rains drives worsening rural poverty, May 5, 2010. AlertNet, Thomson-Reuters Foundation.

 

[8] Increasing options: Duddeda Suganavva, in Farmers Leading the Way from Crisis to Resilience: Global Farmer Perspectives on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) (2010). Africare/Oxfam America/WWF.
http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/publications/articles/ Global_Farmer_Perspectives%20_OxfamWWFAfricareSOrig.pdf

 

[9] (2012). Beyond the rat race. Times of India, Dec. 29. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/ city/patna/Beyond-the-rat-race/articleshow/7182371.cms

 

[10] A. Menon (2014). India: In Bengal, women agriculturists take charge. The Citizen, Oct. 13.

 

[11] P. Philipose (2012). Rural champions of change. The Hindu, Feb. 28. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/rural-champions-of-change/article2941702.ece?css=print

 

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