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Magic of millets

AGRICULTURE

At a time when many parts of the State are reeling under drought, Honnalli village in Gulbarga district has shown the way. Farmers here have raised millets in spite of inadequate rainfall, reports Ananda Teertha Pyati.

With shortage of rain, the State is reeling under severe drought. Farmers from several districts across the State are facing losses. Honnalli village in Gulbarga district seems to be insulated from this problem. This village in Aland taluk has taught important lessons to the rest of the State.

Farmers here are unperturbed by the drought that has affected other parts of the State because they have taken to millet farming, which neither uses chemical fertilisers nor pesticides.

Modern agriculture has meant that only hybrid crops are successful. Also, most farmers depend on chemical fertilisers and mechanisation. Often, in this process of modernisation, traditional crops have lost out. Millets, till not so recently, had very few takers with even scientists terming them as ‘coarse grain’!

However, the recent past has seen a revival of indigenous crops. Many farmers are growing and conserving traditional seeds. Farmers of Honnalli village have opted to grow millets, all thanks to the efforts of Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO based at Zaheerabad of Andhra Pradesh. This NGO has been striving to motivate farmers in the Gulbarga region to take up millet farming from the last 25 years. To take this movement forward in Karnataka, DDS decided to chalk out the ‘Siri Grama’ (millet village) scheme.

The Bayalu Seeme Rural Development Samsthe (BSRDS) took upon itself the responsibility of implementing the scheme.

After DDS conducted a survey in Honnalli to check for availability of millet seeds, a shocking fact came to light. Not a single type of millet seeds was available around the villages. Then, DDS distributed various varieties of millet seeds to farmers and they started to sow as soon as the monsoon started. After two-and-a-half months, the crops started to thrive.

“Two decades ago, farmers knew all about little millet, proso millet, foxtail millet and kodo millet varieties. They even cultivated these crops back then. But they slowly forgot these traditional crops because of non-availability of seeds. When we conducted a survey to look for farmers to raise millets, more than 50 people came forward to grow them again,” recalls BSRDS director Subbanna Biradar.

Though the region has received less rainfall, the crops have turned out fine. “It has been over 15 years since these crops were last raised here. Now we have managed to raise a successful crop,” says farmer Naganna Kori. Little millet and foxtail millet have been sown as mixed crops with red gram in Kalyanrao Patil’s field. Owing to water shortage, the area where red gram has been raised is shrinking, whereas the millet crops are thriving.

Another farmer Shivasharanappa says, “After sowing, we weeded the crops twice till now. The crops were attacked by neither pest nor disease.”

Seed bank

All the crops are in the harvesting stage now. According to an agreement between farmers and DDS, farmers should return double of the quantity of seeds once the harvesting is done! These seeds will be stored in a seed bank, which will be set up in the village itself. Farmers who want to grow millets may opt for seeds from the seed bank. To spread awareness about growing millets, a ‘field day’ was observed recently in a millet field of Honnalli. More than hundred farmers participated in this function.

“The production of nutritious food is decreasing along with loss of traditional crops.

People who are aware about health are opting for traditional crops. Millets are gaining popularity among consumers. Farmers must come forward to make use of this demand,” points out P V Satheesh, Director of DDS.

The success of the ‘millet village’ is an example for other farmers and villages on how to achieve self-reliance in the farming sector. Rather than pushing farmers into expensive farming methods, agriculture universities and research stations must come forward to learn the sustainable farming way.

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