: S. Janaki, a farmer, laughs when she says she is unsure of what to do with the extra time that she now has. “Earlier, I used to have back problems because of the tiring labour involved in paddy cultivation. Now, I find working in the field much easier and that it involves lesser time,” she adds.
Janaki is among a group of 15 farmers in Vinayagampet village in Mannadipet commune in Puducherry, who have taken up millets cultivation, after years of dealing with the highs and lows of paddy farming.
Vinayagampet, which has 409 families, was adopted by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in October last year as a pilot project under its ‘Biovillage Programme.’ The promotion of small millets is a component under this programme. The programme also encourages sustainable practices in dairy farming, floriculture, cultivation of pulses, mushroom and fodder, using bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides.
Like many other villages surrounding Puducherry, agriculture was on the decline in Vinayagampet, with the young leaving to the towns and cities for employment. The Biovillage Programme here has helped revive the cultivation of what used to be a staple of this region, the Foxtail millet (thinai in Tamil) and other small millets. The current project involves 15 farmers with around 16 acres, and in their maiden harvest they have produced around 10,000 kilograms. The farmers have been using an organic fertiliser mixture.
“The production of millets requires only one tenth of water needed for paddy, which I was sowing earlier,” says Bhoopathy, one of the farmers in the project. Subramaninan, another farmer, adds, “I spent Rs.5000 on farm inputs and got 1000 kg. For the same area, I had spent up to Rs.20,000 for paddy earlier. Paddy also requires a good quantity of urea fertiliser. My profits have certainly doubled.”
Farmers have also noticed fewer instances of pest attacks. “The millets have, in fact, attracted some sparrows and parrots which have not been seen in a while,” says Shanmugam, Janaki’s husband. P. Santamurthy, training coordinator and C. Devaraj, a former agricultural officer, who have been helping the farmers in the project, say that growing awareness of health benefits of millets has helped fetch good prices for the farmers, of around Rs2800 for 100 kilograms.
The Biovillage Programme by MSSRF which was initiated in Puducherry in 1991 is now present in seven States across India. The programme follows a human centred model of development which has a holistic approach, says Dr. Vidyaa Ramkumar, Project Coordinator, Biovillage Resource Centre, Pillaiyarkuppam.
Different components of the programme include community administration with representation of women and scheduled castes, health and sanitation, education and a Village Knowledge Centre for information dissemination, says Ms. Ramkumar. Rain water harvesting, biogas and waste management are promoted. Farmers are given training and taken on exposure visits. Agriculture and animal clinics are other components in the programme, apart from civic components like renovation of the local temple, building community toilets and installing street lights.
“The millets have, in fact, attracted some sparrows and parrots which have not been seen in a while”