On a warm, sunny day in the small village of Kulumedoddi, 62-year-old Lakshmamma is waiting outside her home to finish a deal with Janadhanya, the farmer’s society initiated by GREEN which helps provide market linkage for organic produce. Lakshmamma has 50 kg of indigenous variety millet (called colloquially as kempu ragi) which will fetch her a good price and she is happy to sell it.
The enterprising grandmother is living proof that age holds no barriers. Within a period of 4 years, Lakshmamma has managed to cut the costs of her agricultural inputs down by 50% as well as greatly increase her family income. A pioneer in her own right, she was one of the first members in her community to take up organic farming practices and, while many in her village were sceptical of the benefits of her decision, continued to pursue the path towards sustainability and prove the sceptics wrong.
One of the first steps she took was to adopt the cultivation of indigenous seed varieties. “People used to grow these nati (indigenous) varieties some 20 or 30 years back. They used to use organic manure too. But then the Government introduced hybrid varieties that gave high yields with chemical fertilizers, so everyone started cultivating those.”
Her husband of 50 years, Narasimaiah, explains how this simple decision to switch back to indigenous varieties helped them cut down costs and thereby strengthen their economic security. Hybrid varieties required expensive inputs in order to produce high yields. For example, a 50 kg bag of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), used as fertilizer for crops, costs approximately Rs. 1000. According to Narasimhaiah, at least 20 to 25 kg are needed during the sowing season for just 1 acre of land. All the inputs included, the family used to spend approximately Rs. 3000 for cultivation of just 1 acre of hybrid variety millet alone. They could ill afford such high costs. “We have to have at least Rs. 7000 or Rs. 8000 in hand for cultivation,” says Lakshmamma.
Despite investing in high cost inputs to increase the yields of these hybrid varieties, the family’s 4-acre landholding would produce just enough for personal consumption. Only excess produce was sold on the market, and that too on rare occasions. This meant that while the family invested money to cultivate crops, the financial returns were poor. “We had to borrow money for something or other,” adds the mother of six. Raising a large family through such economic insecurity was no easy task.
Indigenous seed varieties however, thrive well on low-cost organic inputs. Through GREEN’s intervention, Lakshmamma was persuaded to take up the cultivation of these indigenous varieties. “I started trying these [sustainable] practices when people from GREEN told me it would be good for me. GREEN also taught us to make things like jeevamrutha, poocharimandu, ganjala. That’s what I use in my farm now,” she says.
Another step Lakshmamma took was to become a member of the community seed bank (CSB) initiated by GREEN. The meetings at Devaralamma Community Seed Bank provided her with a platform to exchange information and discuss her concerns. Lakshmamma applied the knowledge she gained there in improving the management of her farm. “I would come home and discuss suggestions given in the meetings with my husband,” she says. Before she joined the seed bank, adds Lakshmamma, she had not been in the habit of saving seeds; nor had she been involved in seed production. Today however, she earns an extra income through her seed production activities and saves seeds for the following year. She has also taken up agroforestry and soil and water conservation practices after being associated with GREEN.
The Foundation provided credit and savings management training to strengthen the Self Help Group (SHG) to which Lakshmamma belongs. Through the SHG she can now avail loans if she is in need of money.
The CSB and SHGs, helped mobilize other programs in the village. Handicraft making initiated by GREEN has proved particularly helpful in the village, as it has provided many families with an alternate source of income. Lakshmamma is able to make upwards of Rs. 2000 a month through the handicraft program. Income from sericulture further strengthens her economic security. If crops fail or yields are poor, these alternate income generation schemes are often the only source of livelihood for farming families like Lakshmamma’s.
Having come this far on the road to sustainability and autonomy, Lakshmamma wishes to go further still. She signed up for certification in organic farming through the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) close to 3 years ago and is set to be organically certified within the coming year. Providing her with support and guidance through this process is Janadhanya, a farmer’s society initiated by GREEN. Once certified, Janadhanya will also provide the market linkage necessary for her farm produce to fetch a good price in the market and further improve her financial standing.
She is in a position today, says Lakshmamma, to contribute to the family’s financial needs. “If the men need money for something in the house, I tell them not to worry; I can get the money,” says Lakshmamma.