In 2012 one brave farmer decided to plant a field of traditional millet just like his ancestors would do many years before. That year the area was hit with a severe drought and even as many of his neighbours and friends saw their crops fail due water shortage, his millet crop gave a bumper yield. Seeing his success other farmers in the village became very interested to know more and to give the traditional varieties of millet a go themselves.
The next year many more farmers planted a number of different traditional varieties of millets and got equally good yields despite it being a year of drought again.
The villages of Hanumanahalli, Ramapura and Mattighatti are some 40 km from Hubbali, Karnataka. The area has been suffering from severe droughts for a number of years and by 2012 has already seen a number of farmer suicides.
In 2014 these villages joined the Karnataka State Government’s ‘Savayava Bhagya’ program. Under the scheme they targeted converting at least 100 hectares for pure organic cultivation.
Farmers were encouraged to try dedicating at least a percentage of their land to cultivating through organic methods.
They were given financial support as well as training in practical techniques such as how to make vermi-compost, how to make jiwamrita and how to make organic pesticides.
Alongside joining Savayava Bhagya, they received traditional seeds and support from Bangalore based NGO, Sahaja Samrudha. Sahaja Samrudha is a people’s movement to preserve India’s traditional farming practices and conserve the rich biodiversity of indigenous crop varieties. They have been working constantly to help support the farmers with technical expertise and provisions of traditional varieties of seeds.
Sahaja Samrudha helped the farmers form a group comprising of around 80 farmers called ‘Sanjivini Savayava Krushikara Balaga’. Initially, the farmers got lower yields when they first switched over to growing organically, but as their soil slowly healed and regenerated, they got better yields each and every.
Within a couple of years they were producing excellent yields, with one big difference- they were using almost zero external input which meant a dramatic reduction of costs.
“We were getting better yields with zero inputs and we started to notice the health of the village improve, people were falling sick less frequently and more serious lifestyle diseases started to become less common,” local farmer Sunil said.
Growing millet is not a new idea, rather a revival of an old tradition- millets were grown in this area for countless generations before the ‘Green Revolution.’
Elders in the villages can still remember seeing millet growing in the fields in their childhood days. Millets are the perfect crop for this region and its current climatic conditions. They are low maintenance crops, with a good market demand, provide fodder for cattle and many other ecological benefits.
Many local farmers are shifting to millet cultivation instead of focusing on pesticide and water-intensive crops such as BT-cotton, soy and maize. It is a matter of common sense- cotton, soy and maize keep failing due to a lack of rain.
The Sanjivini Savayava Krushikara Balaga farmers group has been very successful in marketing their millet. Through forming the group they were able to collect large quantities to attract wholesale buyers.
Last year they successfully sold around 50 tonnes of the crop and this year the quantity is expected to cross 200 tonnes.
Sahaja Samrudha have worked closely alongside Sanjivini Savayava Krushikara Balaga to create a long-term sustainable seed bank for the farmers. To receive the seeds they have to follow a few basic conditions that help ensure the sustainability of the seed bank:
1) After the harvest is complete, the farmer must return twice the quantity he has taken from the seed bank.
2) Using only organic techniques.
3) Seeds returned must be of good quality.
The villagers are now all self-sufficient in their seed needs and selling the excess seeds back to Sahaja Samrudha.
The local millet movement continues to go from strength to strength and the more people hear about their story the more demand there is from farmers in Karnataka and beyond for traditional millet seeds.