Millet seeds, a powerful weapon against hunger |

Subasa Mohanta is no stranger to hunger. That is a regular occurrence in the life of this 50-year-old farmer, her husband and two children.

Despite 16 hours a day working in the fields, hewing stones for a construction site, she was able to come home without enough to eat.

But in 2018, a small bag of seeds changed Subasa’s life.

Ms. Mohanta scatters finger millet – given to her by the Government of Odisha as part of a rural program supported by the World Food Program (WFP) – on the abandoned 0.6-hectare plot surrounding her brick and mud house in Goili village, Mayurbhanj district.

In about two months, she harvested her first mandia crop (the Odia word means ragi or finger millet). Subasa sold a portion of the roughly 500 kg she harvested for 40 rupees per kg, keeping a portion to feed the hungry at home and giving the rest to friends and family. And then she planted the seeds of change in her farmland.

Subasa Mohanta with cycle weeders.

UN India / Anadi Charan Behera by Studio Priya, Bhubaneswar

Subasa Mohanta with cycle weeders.

Mandia Maa, a symbol of hope

Over the past three years, Subasa’s story of hope, confidence and empowerment has become intertwined with the formation and growth of the Odisha Millets Mission (OMM), a flagship program of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Empowering Farmers by regional government.

Now, her days are split between farming her land, plus another 3.2 hectares she has rented, and advising women in Mayurbhanj and other Odisha districts about The best methods of growing millet.

She also noticed local reporters, who lined up to get a glimpse of Mandia Maa, a nickname she earned through her hard work and willingness to try a new crop when a handful of people Others are open to this idea.

Ragi, before and after treatment.

UN India / Anadi Charan Behera by Studio Priya, Bhubaneswar

Ragi, before and after treatment.

Pancakes to drink health

Finger millet has not only changed the fortunes of the Mohantas, who have now diversified into growing other types of millet such as suan (small millet) and sorghum. It also makes a place for itself in their diet. From mandia kakara pitha (a type of pancake) to malt mandia (a nutritious drink to start the day), family nutrition bowls are also part of OMM’s journey to success.

Millet’s high tolerance to heat (up to 64 degrees Celsius), drought and flooding makes millet the obvious choice for farmers in an era of climate change and natural resource depletion.

Millet requires less water than rice and wheat, two staple foods in the Indian diet. Short-day millets easily grow without fertilizer, making them a healthier and safer option for both the consumer and the soil. The intercropping of millet with other crops also benefits soil quality: It helps keep water in check and aids soil conservation in areas prone to erosion.

Bishow Parajuli, WFP Representative, said: “In addition to being a rich source of nutrients and a climate-adapted crop, millet can diversify food systems, aid in building and adapting to the potential of food systems. resilience and livelihood enhancement for smallholder farmers, including women, nationally and regionally”. and Country Director for India.

Self-help group members at the biological input unit.

UN India / Anadi Charan Behera by Studio Priya, Bhubaneswar

Self-help group members at the biological input unit.

Women come first

In Odisha, what started four years ago with the distribution of leaflets, announcements from trucks and the distribution of seeds to the villagers by volunteers, community workers and officers of the agriculture department is now has blossomed into a movement campaigned by women’s self-help groups.

Women, who are still considered to be the main post-harvest labor and seed holder, have been at the forefront of ragi processing, improving millet production with biological inputs, while also running cafes and The center serves dishes from millet.

The humble jau (a porridge made from unpolished grains) – the most common form of millet consumption in Odisha – is now enjoyed alongside other traditional dishes such as bara, malpua, khaja ​​and chakuli.

No longer ‘poor man’s food’

The seeds of change have taken root, but the road ahead is free of challenges.

Millet is still seen as the food of the poor and the poor, an image problem that needs to be addressed through promotions, social media campaigns and awareness messages from celebrities. language.

Millet needs the support of urban consumers to find the right place on the shelf.

Although that change could happen in a few summers, the women in the villages and small towns of Odisha are taking their millet business seriously. And life is changing, grain by grain.

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