Revival of climate-smart crops

Revival of climate-smart crops

A unique world of millets unfolds as one travels across Kundagol taluk in Dharwad district. Nine varieties of millets grown successfully in over 300 acres of this drought-prone area offer hope amidst the impending dangers of climate change. Sahaja Samrudha organisation started working in this area with Hanumanahalli as the centre in 2014, under a project of the Agriculture Department.

For effective implementation of the project, a group of around 80 farmers called ‘Sanjivini Savayava Krushikara Balaga’ was formed. The prime objectives of the project were to encourage farmers to take up organic cultivation and popularise heritage varieties. Till then, little millet, foxtail millet and sorghum were the only millet varieties grown in the fields here. Two years ago, proso millet was introduced to the farms as the first step to increase diversity.  “The crop yielded well despite the delay in rains. This gave me confidence to increase the area of cultivation,” says farmer Ishwara Gowda Patil. Eventually, he shared his success and distributed seeds to several farmers in Hanumanahalli and surrounding villages. Gradually, other varieties like barnyard millet, brown top millet and finger millet entered the fields of Kundagol taluk.

With many advantages such as low- maintenance, health benefits, market demand, fodder value and ecological benefits, these crops soon gained an edge over other crops and as a result, the cultivation area increased. To cater to the seed requirements of the farmers, a seed bank was set up. Like in any other seed bank, seeds are the currency in this seed bank too. The farmers don’t have to pay while collecting the seeds from the seed bank, but are required to return double the quantity of seeds after harvest. Over 150 farmers have approached the bank so far.

The success of millets has made many farmers shift from Bt cotton, soybean and maize to millets. Those who found it difficult to grow food crops have also taken the millet path. Says Gangadhar Alagavadi, who suffered loss with groundnut for the last three years, “I decided to try barnyard millet and little millet in one acre each. While other crops failed due to scarce rain, millets have yielded well.”

Some of the farmers have made an effort to diversify the crops by collecting sub-varieties. One such enthusiast, Yallappa Ramji, has cultivated six varieties of little millet. Besides these, he has also grown brown top millet and foxtail millet. “It didn’t rain for many days after sowing and I was worried that the crops won’t come up. But fortunately, it rained for a few days and that was sufficient for millets. I have not seen such a robust growth with little rain in crops like cotton, groundnut and maize that are traditionally grown here,”
Yallappa says.

He is also amazed by the pest and disease resistant properties of these crops. Each variety has a unique property and use. Realising the advantages of millets over other crops, farmers here have decided to extend the cultivation area. They are also planning to experiment with mixed cropping with desi cotton and millets.
Hanumanahalli and other villages also have the distinction of growing nine millet varieties.

Though processing is a bottleneck for millet farmers, the growers association is exploring the possibilities. While Dinesh Kadiri, an agri-entrepreneur, has acknowledged the quality of the millets and purchased unprocessed grains in bulk, a local flour mill has made some adjustments to its machines to process millets. The farmers group also participates in millet fairs organised regularly in different parts of Karnataka and even other states. As a result of all these efforts, the farmers have marketed around 50 tonnes of millets last year. This year the quantity is expected to cross 200 tonnes.

Ananda Teertha Pyati

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