It was a hot summer day. There was just boiled rice and raw mango pickle on the plate. ‘Her family had a right to eat better’, she thought. Finally this would all change. However, did she ever imagine that she would lead an entire village towards this change?
As per the Census of 2011, 60% of the Indian population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. An inter-mingling of multiple phenomenon has given rise to deep farming distress in the rural populace resulting in low productivity and below par income. Within this framework, the condition of women is worse in terms of the general quality of life and inequalities of decision making power in farming including income and food access within the family. Kumari Bai and her family in the village of Debgaon in Chhattisgarh were part of a similar struggle.
When PRADAN started working through Self Help Groups (SHGs) in Debgaon four years back, lack of year round food security & low income from agriculture were the most pertinent issues. Over a course of engagement, a new method of agriculture, System of Root Intensification (SRI), was introduced in all crops. There was initial scepticism in the village about abandoning age-old traditional methods. But an exposure to another block where PRADAN was working on food security and new technologies in cash crops had convinced Kumari Bai. A way out of the farming malaise that had engulfed her and other families in the village seemed a visible reality. It started with one woman taking tentative steps to new farming methods. Within a year, the entire village shifted to SRI. Integrating both the traditional knowledge of Indian farmers and modern technologies, SRI practice was also introduced through the use of traditional indigenous seeds which are resistant to pest and disease and have high nutritional value. SRI, trellis based creeper cultivation and a strategy of mixed-multi tier cropping pattern ensured doubling of cereal production with farmers selling their vegetables in the nearby market and beyond. The food plates are now nutritious and healthy. Unsurprisingly, it was Kumari Bai who was the first woman in her village and nearby to venture into the market to sell vegetables: many barriers of patriarchy and entrenched social norms broke that day. Farmers like Kumari and others now earn more than Rs 30000 every year through vegetable cultivation using the Machan system of agriculture. A quiet transformation in food sufficiency was achieved in a village within four years; led by a woman farmer. And in that journey, a vegetable entrepreneur was born who continues to inspire other women in her village.