A powerful weapon against hunger, millet seeds |

Subasa Mohanta is no stranger to hunger. This has not changed in the lives of a 50-year-old farmer, husband and two children.

Even after 16 hours of farming and loading stones to the construction site, they may return home without eating.

But in 2018, a small seed bag helped change Suvassa’s life.

Ms. Mohanta sowed her finger millet seeds, given to her by the Odisha government as part of a rural program supported by the World Food Program (WFP), on 0.6 hectares of fallow land surrounding her brick and mud house. Goili village in Mayurbhanj region.

In about two months, she harvested her first Mandia (Odia word for ragi or finger millet) crop. Subasa sells some of her roughly 500kg of her harvest for 40 rupees per kilo, keeps some to feed the hungry at home, and distributes the rest to her friends and family. And she sowed the seeds of change once again on her own farmland.

Subasa Mohanta holding a cycle mower.

Anadi Charan Behera at Studio Priya, UN India/Bhubaneswar

Subasa Mohanta holding a cycle mower.

The symbol of hope, cassava

Subasa’s story of hope, confidence and empowerment over the past three years is intertwined with the origins and growth of the Odisha Millets Mission (OMM), the flagship program of the local government’s Department of Agriculture and Farmers Empowerment.

She is currently cultivating an additional 3.2 hectares on her land and advising women on best practices in millet cultivation in Mayurbhanj and other parts of Odisha.

She also attends local reporters lining up to get a peek at Mandia Maa, a nickname she earned for her hard work and willingness to try new crops when others weren’t open to ideas.

Ragi, before and after treatment.

Anadi Charan Behera at Studio Priya, UN India/Bhubaneswar

Ragi, before and after treatment.

Pancakes in a healthy drink

Finger millet did not change the fate of the Mohanta, now diversified by growing suan (small millet) and other millets such as sorghum. It also has a place in their diet. From mandia kakara pitha (a kind of pancake) to mandia malt (a healthy drink to start the day), a bowl of family nutrition is also part of OMM’s journey to success.

Millet’s high heat (up to 64 degrees Celsius), drought and flood resistance make this crop an obvious choice for farmers in times of climate change and natural resource depletion.

Millet requires less water than rice and wheat, two staples of the Indian diet. Short-term millet grows easily without fertilizer, making it a healthier and safer choice for both consumers and the soil. Crossing millet with other crops also helps with soil quality. It prevents runoff and helps preserve soil in areas prone to erosion.

“In addition to nutrient-rich and climate-resilient crops, millet can diversify food systems, support resilience-building and adaptation, and improve the livelihoods of small farmers, including women,” said Bishow Parajuli, WFP President. National Director of India.

A member of the self-help group of bio-input devices.

Anadi Charan Behera at Studio Priya, UN India/Bhubaneswar

A member of the self-help group of bio-input devices.

women take the lead

In Odisha, what started four years ago with leaflet distribution, van loudspeaker announcements and seed distribution among villagers by volunteers, community volunteers and Ministry of Agriculture officials has now blossomed into a movement led by women’s self-help groups.

Women, still mostly seen as post-harvest labor and watchdog women, are leading the processing of ragi, increasing millet yields with bio-input and running cafes and centers serving millet-based dishes.

The most common form of millet consumption in Odisha, humble zau (porridge made from coarse grains) is now enjoyed alongside other traditional dishes such as barra, malfua, kaza and chakuli.

It is no longer ‘food for the poor’

The seeds of change have taken root, but the road ahead is not free from challenges.

Millet is still perceived as food for the poor and marginalized, and is an image problem that must be addressed through promotions, social media campaigns, and celebrity awareness messages.

Millets need the support of urban consumers to find their rightful place on the shelf.

The move may come after a few summers, but the women in the villages and small towns of Odisha are doing the millet work in earnest. And life is changing little by little.

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Author: bm4ey

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