Odisha: How One Woman Is Making a Push Towards Modern Agricultural Practices

Odisha, known for its fertile alluvial lands, has long grown paddy as the main Kharif crop. In all, 69% of the state’s cultivation is covered by this crop, rounding up to 63% of the total area under food grain agriculture. Paddy cultivation covers a totality of 4.4 million hectares in Odisha, which accounts for 91% of the area under cereal farming and contributes to 94% of the total cereal production in the state.

During the 1950s, Odisha topped the charts as the leading state in rice production but faced a rapid decline in the decades that followed. Due to the introduction of the High Yielding Variety Programme in the 1960s, the state’s share in national rice production saw a gradual decline from 11% to 7.9% by 2008-2009. The 1960s saw the Green Revolution, which was not that friendly to the small and marginal farmers of Odisha who had sparse and scattered land holdings. These farmers, who were efficient managers and hardworking but poor investors, tried to cope with the new system. As a result, the cost of production increased, leading to farming being a dependent enterprise for the farmers.

With the onset of the global pandemic, livelihoods were turned upside down. Many farmers were left with very little capital to invest in the agricultural season.

When Krishi Mitra Jayashree Pradhan, 45, of Khamarsahi Gram Panchayat Daspalla Block in Nayagarh, Odisha, observed this, she came up with low-cost natural solutions to overcome this obstacle. Jayashree has been associated with the Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM) for two years. As a Krishi Mitra, she is responsible for 150 agricultural households and their farming practices.

A mother of two, Jayashree has received several training sessions on sustainable agriculture from the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) and is currently partnering with OLM with capacity-building programmes of the Krishi Mitras in the district.

Reducing costs in cultivating staple food is not an easy task, as compromising the yield is not a feasible option. The first step of the initiative started from sowing practices. Jayashree often observed farmers wasting large amounts of seeds. To ensure proper germination rate in the fields, and to bring about a reduction in the wastage, she introduced the Seed Selection and Germination Test to the farmers.

Jayashree has helped change sowing practices in the area.

This test helps predict the viability of the seeds for controlled usage. Jayashree also introduced seed treatment with local and readily available materials to reduce the rate of mortality in the freshly germinated seeds. But these new methods were still not enough to reduce the cost of seeds.

She then decided to take advice from agriculture experts in the weekly virtual agriculture sessions held by FES to deal with these hurdles. Through these sessions, she educated herself about the line sowing practice. This practice was quite labour intensive and was initially rejected by the farmers. Jayashree initiated a demonstration process in her agricultural land to exhibit the method for her fellow farmers.

According to her observation and deduction, it reduces the seed consumption by 70% to the broadcasting method. Due to the gap between the lines, there is less competition amongst the crops for food, air and water. This process helps during weeding too, thus reducing the labour cost of weeding remarkably.

The training of farmers.

Jayashree’s journey has not been obstacle-free. She had to manage all household chores before stepping out to promote cost-effective, sustainable agricultural methods. In addition, she had to face initial condescension from fellow male farmers who were not ready to accept a woman’s word when it came to their field of work. Some would say it to her face, and others would avoid her.

“I believe that everyone does not have the wisdom to understand the truth at the initial period. It is the duty of them [sic] who understand it to make others understand with their activities for a sustainable future,” she says.

Saswatik Tripathy is a District Coordinator, Nayagarh, Odisha, with the Foundation for Ecological Security, and works with the community to promote sustainable agriculture.

All images have been provided by the author.