This Diwali women farmers in Maharashtra are sowing seeds of entrepreneurship
Women of Masla Khurd village made seeds out of dry vegetables; sold these seed packets to women farmers cultivating near their households, nearby markets and make a profit
For years, many women farmers in the drought-prone Marathwada region of Maharashtra have been cultivating pulses and vegetables using traditional methods and seeds. They turned to ‘natural farming’ as they had no money to buy hybrid seeds and pesticides. This method of farming using natural resources has helped them to overcome perennial droughts and earn a livelihood.
But the Covid-19-led lockdown pushed their families into financial crisis as these women farmers were unable to take the vegetables to the market. Their produce dried up in the fields. But Shailaja Narwade and other women in Masla Khurd village in Osmanabad district were not discouraged by the situation.
“Women can’t afford to be discouraged. They have to fight,” says Shailaja, adding that women in the region have faced with grit problems like droughts, unseasonal rains, loan burdens and suicides by men.
Women of Masla Khurd came out with an innovative idea to combat the Covid-19-led crisis. “We cultivate 16 different types of vegetables, including leafy greens, roots, marrow, allium, etc. Village women decided to make seeds out of dry vegetables and take these to the market. The Covid-19 crisis gave us an opportunity to think out of the box,” says Shailaja.
They took their seed packets to farmers, women who were cultivating near their households and also to nearby markets. In the last few days, Masla’s women have sold seeds worth ₹4.80 lakh, and earned a net profit of ₹1.47 lakh.
Encouraged by their success, women farmers have decided to start a seed bank to market local seeds that are drought-resilient and do not need pesticides and fertilisers to grow. The new venture will help promote organic farming and also nurture entrepreneurship. The plan is to pursue farmers to avoid hybrid seeds and encourage the use of indigenous seeds which “need just air and some water” for cultivation.
“We want to take this seed bank across the State and involve women farmers in the venture. I am sure we will succeed as people want to eat organic vegetables and farmers have to cater to the market demand,” says Shailaja.
Shamal Lomte, a farmer, says that indigenous seeds will be in demand by women farmers as men are interested in cash crops. Men cultivate only when they have ample water and money to buy pesticides and fertilizers. Women cultivate in exact opposite situation, she says.
Tabassum Momin of the Swayam Shikshan Prayog, an organisation that works with women farmers, says that the concept of the seed bank is taking root, and an increasing number of women are coming forward to become part of it. “This concept of seed bank will encourage women farmers to cultivate,” she added.
First published by The Hindu on 11 Nov. 2020