The uphill journey of becoming a Krishi Mitra
Since childhood, Gita Rani Satpathy, from Odagaon block of Nayagarh, Odisha had seen and experienced the variety of problems farmers face, especially during the cultivation of Rabi crop when water is scarce. So, when she got an opportunity to undergo a holistic training programme organized by the Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM) in collaboration with Foundation For Ecological Security (FES), she decided to give it a try.
The training focused on non-chemical approaches to farming through seed improvement, soil nutrient management, disease and pest management and the post-harvesting practices. Inspired to practice and educate other farmers about these methods, Gita began to work as a Krishi Mitra in her village. However, when she tried to explain or discuss with farmers (mostly male) they refused to undergo training by a woman. Some of her neighbours felt that her actions were unbecoming of a woman. Nevertheless, she refused to give up and visited farmers door-to-door explaining the newer farming practices. As many farmers were sceptical, she began experimenting on her own plot of land along with the support of her husband.
Experiments with mung
Gita applied her learnings to grow green gram (mung). Pulses contribute significantly to the country’s nutritional security, owing to their higher content of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Mung, a high protein legume, has a share of 5.02 and 8.2 percent in the total area and productivity of India’s total pulse production, respectively, with an average national yield of 481 kg ha-1, and 477 kg ha-1 in Odisha.
Prior to the introduction of a systematic, scientific, and goal-oriented development program in green gram, its cultivation was mainly dependent on the farmers’ effort to select, collect and grow seeds/grains from the plants for food and other needs. There is a need to acknowledge their tacit ideas and skill in improving farming practices and complement it with agroecological approaches to co-create newer knowledge.
Gita selected viable seeds by using saltwater to discard hollow seeds and used a small quantity of the rest to estimate the rate of germination for the seeds preserved from the previous year. Satisfied with a 95% germination rate, she began preparing her field using bullocks and applying Farmyard Manure (FYM). She then treated the seeds with Bijamruta. After sowing the seeds, she prepared natural plant growth promoters (Jivamruta) and pest repellents (Handikhata). These were applied at different stages of plant growth. She also installed yellow sticky traps to monitor the insect pest availability in the field so that she could start the preventive measures on time. She also mulched the fields with dried leaves to prevent the growth of weed and retain the soil moisture. The rabi season in 2020 was delayed due to untimely rains in November, followed by a sudden spike in temperature in the first week of February. Despite these hurdles, from her half-acre of land Gita got a yield of 1.25 Kg from 25 m2, thus achieving productivity of 500 kg/ha.
To assess the crop yields, she also did a crop cutting activity in (5*5) m2 area.
Economic comparison between the Conventional and Gita’s approach of farming –
Note: The data of Gita’s approach was provided by Gita and the conventional approach data was collected through a simple random sampling with a sample size of 30 at Gita’s Village and later the average amount was taken into consideration.
From Tables 1 and 2, it is evident that while Gita’s approach is marginally costly, the returns are much higher. In one acre of land, by just investing Rs.300 more than the conventional approach, she could earn an additional Rs. 2900 Her methods also improved soil health and biodiversity, as she could see many earthworms and beneficial insects on the farm.
Becoming an ambassador of hope as a ‘plant doctor’
Currently, Gita is working with 150 farming families in her and neighbouring villages. As a Krishi Mitra she has been tireless in her efforts to introduce new knowledge and interventions at the grassroots. Seeing the spectacular results on her farm, many farmers are ready to adopt her practices in the next season. Whenever any farmer needs guidance in the field, she goes to the site and closely observes the issue.
If she does not have a solution, she consults block-level experts and revisits the farmer with suggestions. Now, people welcome her presence and fondly call her ‘plant doctor’. When asked what kept her going despite the initial hurdles and criticism, she replied without skipping a beat –
What people are doing now is a sin. We are so greedy that we do not think about our future generation. I just want to reduce that burden on me. I can go through anything for a better future for my child and the other children of my village”.
About the author
Saswatik Tripathy is the District Coordinator, Foundation for Ecological Security at Nayagarh, Odisha. He can be contacted at email@example.com