CAVS – (Chinnaiah Advasi Vikasa Sangam) a partner NGO of Chethana is actively involved in the welfare and development of tribal communities with a Vision of “Just Society” in Srikakulum District of Andhra Pradesh situated in Hiramandalam taluk. CAVS is also primarily addressing issues related to food security in the tribal pockets of the district.
Once Millets were an integral part of the tribal people’s culture and a staple diet among their communities. However, over the last few decades, due to green revolution impacts and unsupportive measures by the state, nearly 85% of millet cultivation in this region started to decline and while other crops like paddy, sugarcane, ground nut, etc. took their place. Declining support from the government and crop insurance has significantly contributed to this decline and fall of millets in the region. In early 2014, CAVS began a robust campaign to reclaim the lost native seeds from the peoples with the help and seed support from Chethana. It all began in two small villages called Chaparayaguda and AK Baleru where CAVS identified 10 farmers from each village who were willing to cultivate millets, in order that the food and nutritional crises be mitigated, their native food culture be restored. This also came along at a critical time when the communities have stopped celebrating seed festivals since the last three years due to absence of seeds in the vicinity! When these villagers received the seed, they celebrated the seed festival during the season called ‘Chaitra Amavasya’ and sowed afterwards in their mountain terrain landscapes.
In September 2014, these 20 farmers have had a bountiful harvest of foxtail millet, finger millet, pearl millet, pigeon pea, sorghum, little millet, etc. There was a plentiful of food grains available, that too of local varieties. This way they were able to revive lost millet cultivation and started conservation of seeds of their heritage from then on. The best seeds were collected and put in storage for the next season and passed on to fellow farmers who were interested to cultivate them.
Having had a remarkable achievement in their harvests, nearly 150 farmers from the same 2 villages have come forward to become members of the Participatory Guarantee System [PGS ] in which the earlier set of 20 farmers were already members. Through PGS these farmers have come forward to undergo training programme in preparing their own bio-fertilizers, farmyard manure, vermicompost, neem decoctions, need oil, etc. offered by CAVS in collaboration with Chethana. This has led to reduced input costs who otherwise had to depend on external dealers and suppliers to obtain by paying a hefty price which were chemical / conventional in nature.
Accordingly, a PGS farmer by name S. Bapanna, resident of AK Baleru village, has harvested 17 bags of dry land paddy through the usage of bio-fertilizers such as neem cakes, cow dung / urine, etc. which has increased his yield by about 2 bags in comparison to conventional farming in which he used to apply synthetic chemicals.
Collective effort means, food security is restored in these two villages and people are nutritionally secure too. About 10 women farmers have also taken up “value-addition” activities with the help of training offered by CAVS on biscuit making which are being supplied to Tribal Welfare Homes in the District ranging about 50 homes encompassing 27000 students. This has also indirectly led to competitive pricing leading to profits for the millet producers.
At the same time, CAVS is actively organizing training programmes on Farmer Interest Groups which will eventually make these small farmers empowered to be part of a larger umbrella group, Farmer Producer Organisation that will dramatically enhance their marketing linkages, give access to technology, knowledge systems, loan facility through banks, etc. To this end, nearly 105 farmers in CAVS have come forward to become members of the farmer interest groups, and are willing to be part of the silent revolution in unlocking the potential of working in a formally recognized cooperative body which falls under the ambit of a private limited company law and governed by the ministry of corporate affairs, Govt. of India.
On a different – but positive note, winds blowing in the direction of reclaiming millets not only in people’s cultures but also in the policy corridors of the Government with the passage of the National Food Security Act in 2013 which speaks about millets as one of the food security components. This comes as a hope for the future of not only Tribal pockets of the Srikakulum District but for all. The true challenge of course lies in realizing these provisions through appropriate rules and guidelines.
Article compiled by – Spurgeon Raj, Coordinator for Chethana Network, India