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!