She Dares to Dream. Big!
Story : Dolagobinda Panda

Photo Credit: Dolagobinda Panda

Three months of back-breaking work under the scorching sun and lashing rains, on a piece of four acres of upland to grow paddy. With that effort, at the end of each monsoon, Basanti’s reward would be roughly 35 quintals of paddy. Her 0.4 acre homestead would help her grow maize, worth Rs. 6,000. That was all. And her family of five, including her youngest daughter who is just 12, would be at the risk of skipping meals quite often. Basanti Munda, a frail woman in her late 40s, a mother of three, living in the remote Sapakant village of Banspal block of Odisha, was on the edge of her endurance seeing her children going to bed, hungry, many nights, every year.

“I did not have a single water source to grow crops after the monsoons. Working as wage labours, my husband Madu and I could manage some meagre amount of cash for our monthly expenses. If anyone of us fell sick, buying medicines was a luxury for me. During each downpour, several leakages in my ceiling would drench our bed and floor. Last year my son got married. It was becoming more difficult with a new person in the family. I have had enough of it. Madu and I decided to start doing things differently to earn money from what we had!”

Basanti knew that doing something different was not that easy – the path would be untrodden and therefore all she needed was ‘guidance’. PRADAN had promoted SHGs in Sapakant village, where Basanti along with her other SHG mates like Budhuni Munda and Malati Munda learnt about various new ways of income enhancement. Last year, she along with 16 other mates had tried her hands at brinjal cultivation, using the newly learnt techniques like spacing, and other plant protection measures. She got a good harvest and earned Rs. 10,000 from just 0.04 acre of her homestead land!

This year “Promotion of Agriculture Production Clusters in Tribal Regions of Odisha” an Odisha government multi-partner initiative aiming to double income of 100,000 farmers is being implemented in several districts including Keonjhar. The project involves adoption of newer practices of vegetable farming and more systematic and synchronized crop planning. This is something that none of the Sapakant farmers had thought of doing, ever before. Basanti had already witnessed what wonder can vegetable cultivation create; she diligently attended all the training sessions on nursery preparation, transplantation, weeding, disease and pest control. As per the project norms, Basanti along with few other women farmers quickly formed Bhumika Producer Group (P.G.) to synchronize their crop production. They developed their own crop-calendar and Basanti planned to grow brinjal in 0.3 acre, tomato in 0.1 acre and French-beans in 0.05 acre. She procured seeds and other inputs through the Agri Entrepreneur from the P.G. With regular monitoring from PRADAN staff and utmost dedication to ensure all operating procedures were followed Basanti managed to secure 1.75 kgs of brinjals per plant in 2 flushes. The plants are still fruiting. Madu was speechless, tears pf joy rolled down Basanti’s cheeks as they calculated the income during the first week of October – Rs. 32,000! She is eyeing an income of Rs. 60,000 this kharif season.

“I am selling vegetables to traders and also sometimes in retail at the Banspal weekly market which is four kilometres from my home and the Keonjhar daily market which is 18 kilometres away. And I am not the only farmer to go to the market for selling the produce - there are 42 other women who have experienced this change after starting this synchronized farming” says a gleeful Basanti. Her efforts have already started winning praises from officials of Odisha Livelihoods Mission, Department of Horticulture, and traders coming to her village and her crop-field.

And that’s not all – her winter will be busier than ever before! Basanti beams while showing the solar-based irrigation system installed just a few weeks ago with support from the District Mineral Fund. It means her fields, along with those of 10 other women farmers, will not remain fallow during the upcoming winter season; she has chalked out plans for cauliflower and french-beans in another 0.2 acre!

The tables have turned for Basanti. Little more than a year ago a person who was struggling to manage two square meals for her family is now a proud owner of a brand-new tri-cycle trolley costing Rs 11,000, a bicycle, and a mobile phone. She has also bought two bullocks for ploughing her field, and six goats and twenty poultry birds to supplement her income.

Madu and Basanti are now daring to dream. Big! Not just to double their incomes, but also the size of their two-room abode!