Panchabati Baske of Damodarpur village and Nirmala Mahato of Murakhati village are trendsetters in their respective villages in West Bengal’s Jhargram district. Though not highly educated, Ms. Baske and Ms. Mahato have started a revolution by cultivating indigenous varieties of rice organically, without using any chemical fertilisers. There are 55 women farmers in Damodarpur village and 21 women farmers in Murakathi village following in their footsteps by growing indigenous varieties of rice.
Hundreds of women farmers have taken up the cultivation of indigenous rice varieties like Kalabhat (Black rice), Mallifullo (brown rice) and Kerala Sundari (raw aromatic full bran folk rice) and Red Rice, locally called as Sathia, in the remote villages of Jhargram.
What started in 2017 with a dozen women has taken the form of a company with 2,677 women farmers as shareholders to Aamon Mahila Chasi Producer Company Limited. The number of women cultivators, across the five-gram panchayats of Nayagram block in Jhargram, participating in this initiative now stands at over 4,500. The area of land cultivated this year is more than 1,100 hectares .
Ms. Baske started by cultivating the indigenous rice varieties in two to three cottahs of land in 2016-17. This year, she has cultivated black rice in 1.5 bighas (1 bigha = 20 cottahs) of land and Sathia rice in one bigha land. “We are saving ₹4,000 to ₹5,000 per bigha on fertilisers and there is not much difference in the yield,” she said. Both Ms. Baske and Ms. Mahato told The Hindu that they have made profits by cultivating organic indigenous rice varieties. They also said that as stakeholders to Aamon, they have a greater say in decision making when it comes to farming.
PRADAN, a non-government organisation, have hand-held the women by providing training in the cultivation process. The body has also set up a rice processing mill and has started marketing the indigenous produce to different parts of the country. A bio- fertiliser unit has also come up in the region replacing the chemical-based fertilisers used in high-yielding varieties by farmyard manure and other natural inputs.
Madhura Kanjilal, an executive with PRADAN, said that the turnover for Aamon this year is pegged at ₹3 crore. “The women who are part of Aamon have a voice now. Though agriculture is considered a male domain, most of the labour is provided by women. Women farmers at Aamon have the final say as to what to do when it comes to agriculture,” she said.
According to the women farmers, the yield varies with the varieties. While it is about five to six quintals per bigha for indigenous varieties, for the high-yielding paddy cultivated with chemical fertilisers, this can be about nine to ten quintals. With the price of the indigenous varieties being three times, the women farmers are making profit.
Aamon has also provided the women farmers with control over what seeds they could use to grow their food, thereby relieving them of dependence on the high-yielding varieties available in the market which require chemical-based fertilisers. Along with rice, the women also produce plates made of sal leaves, which are abundantly found in the region. This year onwards, the women farmers are also selling this ecofriendly product.
Buddhadeb Jana, manager at Aamon, who looks after the marketing of the indigenous organic rice varieties, said that the challenge remains to reach individual customers. “We have customers in different parts of the country from Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu. We at Aamon are mostly dependent on institutional buyers but are ready to sell those seeking orders above 50 kgs,” he said.
Mr. Jana also added attempts are being made so that the rice varieties are available to individual customers through online platforms.