Millet seeds – a powerful weapon against hunger |

Subasa Mohanta is no stranger to hunger. It was a constant in the life of this 50-year-old farmer, her husband and two children.

Despite 16 hours of backbreaking labor on the farm, hauling stone to the construction site, she is still able to return home without food.

But in 2018, a small bag of seeds helped Subase change his life.

Ms. Mohanta scattered finger millet seeds donated to her by the government of Odisha as part of an agricultural program supported by the World Food Program (WFP) – on a fallow plot of 0.6 hectares around her adobe house in the village of Goyli, Mayurbkhanj district.

About two months later, she harvested her first crop of mandia (the word Odia means ragi or finger millet). Subasa sold some of the about 500 kilos she collected at Rs 40 per kilo, kept some of it to feed hungry mouths at home, and distributed the rest to friends and family. And then she planted the seeds of change again on her farm.

UN in India/Anadi Charan Behera of Studio Priya, Bhubaneswar

Subasa Mohanta with a weeding machine.

Mandia Maa, symbol of hope

Over the past three years, Subasa’s story of hope, confidence and empowerment has intertwined with the birth and growth of Odisha Millets Mission (OMM), the regional government’s Department of Agriculture and Farmer Empowerment flagship program.

Now her days are split between working her own land and another 3.2 hectares she rents, and advising women in Mayurbhanj and other parts of Odisha on best millet cultivation practices.

She also visits local reporters who line up to take a look at Mandia Maa, a nickname she has earned for her hard work and willingness to try the new crop when few were open to the idea.

Ragi before and after processing.

UN in India/Anadi Charan Behera of Studio Priya, Bhubaneswar

Ragi before and after processing.

Pancakes for a health drink

Finger millet didn’t just change the fortunes of the Mohanta family, who now branched out into other types of millet such as suan (small millet) and sorghum. He also found a place for himself in their diet. From mandia kakara pitha (a type of pancake) to mandia malt (a healthy drink to start the day), the family food bowl is also part of OMM’s path to success.

The high resistance of the millet plant to heat (up to 64 degrees Celsius), drought and flooding makes this crop an obvious choice for farmers in an era of climate change and depletion of natural resources.

Millet requires less water than rice and wheat, two staples of the Indian diet. The short season millet grows easily without fertilizer, making it a healthier and safer option for both the consumer and the soil. Combining millet with other crops is also good for soil quality: it helps control water runoff and promotes soil conservation in areas prone to erosion.

“In addition to being a nutrient-rich and climate-resilient crop, millet can diversify the food system, help build resilience and adaptation, and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, including women, at the national and regional levels,” says Bishou Parajuli, WFP spokesman. and Regional Director for India.

Members of a self-help group at the bio-entrance block.

UN in India/Anadi Charan Behera of Studio Priya, Bhubaneswar

Members of a self-help group at the bio-entrance block.

Women to the fore

In Odisha, what began four years ago with leaflets, announcements over loudspeakers from vans, and distribution of seeds to villagers by volunteers, community advisors and agriculture department officials has now grown into a movement driven by women’s self-help groups.

Women, still considered mostly post-harvest workers and seed keepers, have taken the lead in processing ragi, boosting millet yields with bio-supplements, and opening cafes and centers serving millet dishes.

The humble jau (whole grain porridge), the most common form of consumption of millet in Odisha, now enjoys the company of other traditional dishes such as bara, malpua, khaja ​​and chakuli.

No more “poor man’s food”

The seeds of change have taken root, but the path forward is not free from challenges.

Millet is still perceived as the food of the poor and underprivileged, and this is an image issue that needs to be addressed through promotions, social media campaigns, and outreach messages from celebrities.

Millet needs the support of the urban consumer to find its rightful place on the shelf.

Although it may still be a few years before this shift, women in the villages and small towns of Odisha take their millet seriously. And life changes, bit by bit.

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