KALPETTA: The Harithasree project under the Kudumbasree mission has helped revive paddy cultivation in Wayanad district.
Seven years ago when the acreage under paddy cultivation in Wayanad was declining, the Vyshnavi Neighbourhood Group (NHG) at Eranellur in Panamaram panchayat undertook a micro-economic venture to salvage the situation. It took on lease two acres of fields to cultivate Gandhakasala, a variety of aromatic rice that was Wayanad’s pride and among the most-sought-after varieties in Kerala.
The endeavour came at a time when Gandhakasala was fast losing ground to high-yielding high-breed rice strains. Besides, paddy fields were being converted to take up cash crops.
“In the initial stages, we faced many obstacles,” says G. Prema Kumari, president of the NHG. The members sold the rice from door to door and from market to market. Soon the organically cultivated rice became popular and found ready-takers in resorts and restaurants catering to eco-tourism. The NHG spread the cultivation to 17 acres of leased paddy fields last year. This year, however, there is a minor setback and cultivation has been restricted to 12 acres, mainly owing to the lack of availability of paddy fields on lease. Currently, the NHG sells an average 2.5 quintals of Gandhakassala rice a week to the various resorts spread over the district at Rs.45 a kg.
Today, around 1,650 NHG units have taken up paddy cultivation in leased or self-owned fields in the district.
Vyshnavi NHG also has other activities such as dairy farming, organic vegetable cultivation, preparation of pickles, etc., says Ms. Premakumari.
Dhanasree, Kudumbasree’s micro-unit at Mepadi panchayat, is another success story. Three NHG groups working under the micro-unit make food products from bamboo shoots and bamboo rice. These products are popular among eco-tourism restaurants in the district. “The 10 members of our unit earn on an average Rs.70 a day, says P. Sheeba, president of the unit.
The Thrikkaippata Fathimatha dry flower micro-unit produces decorative items from waste materials such as plantain fibre, dried bamboo flowers, etc. The products are sold locally and through resorts and pavilions of Uravu, a non-governmental organisation in Wayanad. The 10 members engaged in the endeavour earn Rs.3,000 a month, says Elizabeth, president of the unit. There are 500 micro-units working actively under the Kudumbasree mission in the district.
The seven members of the Sruthilayam micro-unit at Cherumadu in Nenmeni panchayat are engaged in publicity works for Kudumbasree melas. Occasionally, they offer their services to the public. They charge Rs.3,500 to Rs.4,000 for a programme, says Kamalavilochini, secretary of the unit.
Another success story is that of Chaithanya NHG at Pulpally. The unit produces Ayurvedic products from herbs collected from the forests in Wayanad. The unit started functioning eight years ago with 12 members. “Initially, marketing of the products was difficult. But, now we sell the products at monthly melas in the district and to customers who approach the unit directly,” says T. Nisha, unit secretary. Each member earns Rs.4,000 monthly on an average. They have also now repaid the loan of Rs.2.5 lakh they had taken four years ago.
The Harithasree project is aimed at empowering NHGs through mutual cooperation and interaction and with the help of the Local Self-Government Department. The department identifies land that has been left uncultivated in the district and encourages NHGs to take up cultivation in such lands. The land owners are given lease rent fixed by the Local Self-Government Department. Cultivation of paddy, banana, kazava, turmeric and varieties of vegetables is taken up under the project. Necessary financial help is given in the form of soft loans and grants to groups and individuals engaged in commercial cultivation. Families below poverty line are also given financial help to cultivate in their own land, depending on the area and productivity.
According to A. Noushad, district coordinator of the Kudumbasree mission, 793 NHGs participated in various ventures during 2006-07. They were given Rs.15,59,785 as financial help to take up cultivation in 1,431 acres. In 2007-08, the acreage grew to 3,262 acres in which 1,590 NHGs participated and they received a financial help of Rs.78,50,443.
Mr. Noushad claimed that this was a State-level record in Kudumbasree efforts. For 2008–09, the target is to spread cultivation on a larger scale for which more than Rs.1 crore has been set aside. The projects take an active interest not only in cultivation but also in procuring and distribution (marketing) of the produce.
The Wayanad Marketing and Rural Trading (WYNMART) is formed as an event management group for this purpose. WYNMART already has units at Vythiri and Muttil panchayats in the district. WYNMART is actively involved in responsible tourism efforts and in organising sales exhibitions .There are plans to use WYNMART to procure the NHG’s agriculture produce and distribute them to resorts, hotels, etc., he added. At present, as many as 7,390 NHGs have been registered under the Kudumbasree mission in the district.
Though the Kudumbasree mission has been able to better the lot of womenfolk in the district, it has not achieved the same success among tribal women, who constitute a major section in the district. But Mr. Noushad says that a sustainable development scheme for the Scheduled Tribes has been started in the district.