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She has become villagers' envy

The woman who won the rice against hunger
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:32 IST
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:32 IST

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Till last month, 38-year-old Duddeda Sugunavva had not even crossed the borders of Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh. She had only seen an occasional aircraft flying over her village, Katkur.

Till three years ago, not many had cared to take a second look at her. Now, most villagers look up to her. In October, she flew to the US and rubbed shoulders with some world-renowned scientists and made a presentation at the World Food Prize event at Iowa from 11th to 15th.

“During the flight to New York, Sugunavva was a bit scared. Once the flight took off, she was normal and had no problems,” Manisha Agarwal, Senior Media Officer at the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature-India) who had accompanied her on the tour says. Manisha was on hand as an escort to Sugunavva and as an interpreter to her.

“I am comfortable with non-vegetarian food and I had no problem with the food served on flight. It was a bit bland as I am used to eating hot and spicy food here. I was impressed with the America. It is a big country and agriculture is taken up on vast tracts of land. One could see crops in  thousands of hectare of land. The city was full of skyscrapers,” she recalls. Her memories included having lunch at a
Vietnamese restaurant at Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, rubbing shoulders with development practitioners and experts from various countries.

The petite and dark complexioned Sugunavva was lucky as Manisha helped her in obtaining passport and visa was not a major problem as the World Food Prize Foundation had sponsored her visit to the US. The gathering that included stalwarts like Jeff Raikes, CEO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rajiv Shah, Administrator, USAID, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, and renowned agricultural scientist Dr M S Swaminathan.

She not only shared her experiences at the World Food Prize event between  October 12 and 16 but also met, spoke and influenced senior officials at IFRI, World Bank, US senate and USAID when in Washington DC. Moussa Ag Demba, a farmer from Douékiré, Mali and Vietnamese farmer, Le Ngoc Thach were the other smallholder farmers to attend the meeting. In Iowa, draping herself in a new sweater, Sugunavva visited corn fields and spoke to  college and schoolchildren on farming.

The selection of Sugunavva was a foregone conclusion for the WWF as she has been propagating SRI (System for Rice Intensification) from November 2007, when representatives from the local NGO, Centre for Rural Operation Programme Society (CROPS) in Jangoan highlighted the new method of cultivation to the  villagers.   Katkur is part of the semi-arid region of Telangana with very limited surface water irrigation.

Farmers mainly depend on ground water and draw it excessively to grow crops like paddy. Sugunavva’s owns 1.5 acres dry land with no possibility of  irrigation. For the family of Sugunavva, her husband Ailaiah, and their three daughters Renuka, Rekha and Aswini, farming is the sole source of income.

“My son Ramaiah committed suicide when he was 18-years old, unable to bear the humiliation in the hands of moneylenders,” Sugunavva told Deccan Herald. She overcame her grief with a determination that none of her three children will face  absolute poverty or hunger again till she is alive.

Just around the same time, Sugunavva learned about SRI in November 2007. She was immediately intrigued, because the high-interest debt she borrowed to invest on inputs for cultivation of rice was mounting, but yield remained the same. Initially, her husband was against his wife’s  decision to experiment with the new method. However, after their visit to a CROPS demonstration of SRI in a neighbouring village, they agreed to try the new method. 

Initially, she decided to practice with the new technique in about a tenth of an acre.  But after harvesting six 70-kilo bags rather than the usual four bags from that plot, she extended SRI to the entire two acres leased land, and has now been using only SRI practices for five seasons. Sugunavva now volunteers her time as  resource person with CROPS for promoting SRI and training other farmers.

Sugunavva says she produces more grain while putting fewer plants in the field and spacing them farther apart than she normally would. She uses less water because her fields are flooded and drained, not constantly under water like paddy fields usually are. She adds manure and weeds and aerates the soil with a simple tool. That reduces the cost of and pollution from, inputs like chemical fertilisers and herbicides.

Dramatic gains

Using such methods, Sugunavva says she's been amazed by the results. “In the conventional method, the maximum you get is 100, 120 [grains per plant]. With this, I'm getting 300 or more.” Sugunavva says she makes enough money and has cleared some of her debts and has also purchased a buffalo to supplement her income.

She now gets attention and respect from the villagers of Katkur. “Even though the villagers calculate everything in terms of monetary gains, they know that I have returned from America,” Sugunavva says with smile. An affectionate mother, she brought three watches for her daughters and a sweatshirt for her husband from USA with $100 she was given by the organisers.

On October 31, Sugunavva was honoured by Citizens of Hanamkonda, the twin city of Warangal with a shawl on her return from the USA and for bringing laurels to the district. Trying to correlate what she saw in the US and the hard life in her village, Sugunavva said: “I saw 1,000 acres in a stretch in Iowa. Everything is done by machines. But I have to cultivate to feed my family. I think I will continue doing it."

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Published 06 November 2010, 16:22 IST

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