“I had given up on so many dreams when I was young, and even when I decided to start with Penmitra, my husband and some close friends discouraged me from doing something that involved a lot of physical labour. But none of that stopped me.”
Twenty years ago, if someone would have told Seenat Kokkur that she would one day be an expert agriculturist and transform the lives of many women, she wouldn’t have believed it.
But that’s precisely what happened. Seenat, who is 40 today, is the founder of an all women’s farming group called ‘Penmitra’ which has encouraged an entire village to take up organic farming!
Penmitra: The Way Up
Seenat comes from a family of farmers and had to discontinue schooling after Class 10. Not too shortly after that, she was married.
“I had never thought that life would come to a standstill after my wedding, and since I was only educated till Class 10. I couldn’t apply for a formal job. So, I continued as a homemaker. But coming from a family of farmers, I thought I should try my hand at agriculture and decided to cultivate whatever I could in my surroundings,” Seenat explains.
Seenat sourced saplings and seeds from the nearby Krishi Bhavan and got around 20 grow bags from the Mannuthi Agricultural University and planted tomatoes in all of them. After a few weeks, she began to experience the joy of farming when the plants bore fruit.
She decided to expand her vegetable garden with ladies finger, green chillies and even cauliflower. Within no time, women from nearby households started approaching her for her unique techniques and tips.
That’s when an idea occurred to her, and acting on it, she started an all women’s farming group under the name ‘Penmitra’ (a woman’s friend) that could bring together the women in her neighbourhood to cultivate vegetables that they could sell or use for their own needs.
What started as a 10-member group has now expanded into a group of 50 that cultivates vegetables, fruits and even paddy.
Penmitra didn’t stop at that. They started attending workshops, classes to expand their knowledge in agriculture and soon gained popularity when they started selling their organic produce at yearly harvest markets.
“Penmitra started in 2015, and we never imagined that it would expand so much in just five years, but now there is not a single home in Kokkur that doesn’t follow organic farming. I feel proud that we were able to motivate an entire village to grow their own vegetables!” Seenat exclaims.
Into The Paddy Fields
After their initial success, Seenat and her team decided to try out paddy cultivation. Although they were using fresh vegetables from their farms, they realised that the rice was still from the markets.
So starting with 5 acres of land on lease, Penmitra prepared the soil for paddy cultivation.
The youths in the Kokkur village who were fascinated by the expansion of what was once a small farming unit, decided to help out and do their part.
“Paddy cultivation requires a lot of physical work, and when these children came together to help us out in the fields, we were more than happy to welcome them. They started coordinating among themselves and formed Whatsapp groups so that they could work in shifts. It was truly a kind gesture,” Seenat recalls.
Despite the water crisis, Penmitra was able to get a decent harvest.
“People who have been cultivating paddy for ages were shocked at the amount of harvest that we had got. Since we were beginners, we had asked for advice from agricultural experts from the Krishi Bhavan which had helped us a lot,” explains Nirupama, another member of Penmitra.
Exposure to Different Fields
In 5 years, Penmitra began to be recognised as a source for economic independence for women.
“We started showcasing our product at various farm fests, and besides farming, we took up new hobbies like creating curios and accessories from the natural waste material like coconut shells and husks which also became famous at exhibitions,” Seenat explains.
Seenat now aims to expand Penmitra’s activities into poultry and dairy farming and even invest in the cultivation of tapioca and coconuts.
“I had given up on so many dreams when I was young, and even when I decided to start with Penmitra, my husband and some close friends discouraged me from doing something that involved a lot of physical labour. But none of that stopped me,” says Seenat.
Along the way, Seenat also managed to complete her schooling and attend college. When Penmitra started to fall into place, Seenat decided to take up long-distance education from the Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU) to fulfil her dream of completing her education. Today, she not only heads an all women’s farming group but is also a karate expert with a BA in History.
“Nothing should put a stop to your dreams, not your gender, age, or your family. All you need is a little bit of faith in yourself,” Seenat concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)