More and better maize improves female farmers’ livelihoods in India

Improved maize varieties and agricultural practices are changing the lives of female farmers and their families in the village of Badbil in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, India. Farmers in Badbil, a remote and deeply impoverished tribal village with high poverty and low literacy rates, have traditionally planted a local rice variety called Sathia. However, rice production is declining due to regularly occurring droughts and declining rainfall, leaving much of Badbil’s agricultural land fallow. Scientists with the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) are working to help farmers use suitable maize hybrids and agricultural technologies to increase agricultural productivity in drought-prone Odisha.

Maize yields in Badbil have traditionally been low due to the use of unimproved varieties, traditional sowing methods and lack of information about good agronomic practices, especially weed and nutrient management. This particularly affects children, as maize cake is a common breakfast and snack for children in the area, and low maize production often means they receive less food. To address this issue, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has been working with women’s self-help groups in Badbil since 2013 to promote the uptake of better agronomic practices, such as sowing with a seed drill and applying site-specific nutrients, and identify the best performing maize hybrids.

Women farmers in the plateau region of Odisha play an integral role in increasing maize productivity. Photo: Srikanth Kolari/CIMMYT

In 2016, ten self-help groups composed of 105 women members cultivated hybrid maize in a total of 80 acres at Badbil village up from 30 acres in 2015, increasing the area under hybrid maize cultivation by more than 150 percent.

Around 100 tons of dry grain were purchased from the women’s self-help groups by a poultry feed mill at a price of Rs. 15,000 (USD $233) per ton, giving the groups a net profit of Rs. 18,000 to Rs. 20,000 (USD $280-$310) per acre, an excellent return on investments.

Children enjoy fresh maize cobs grown by their mothers. Photo: Wasim Iftikar/CSISA

These improved maize yields are helping female farmers not only increase their income, but also their family’s food security. “In addition to selling dry grain, we fed roasted maize and maize cake to our family members during the rainy season, besides distributing green cobs to neighbors and relatives for consumption,” said Jobha Murmu, a member of the Johar Jaher Ayo self-help group.

CSISA-led interventions, jointly with Odisha’s Department of Agriculture, have supported the groups in adopting improved practices such as mechanized line sowing using seed drills, application of pre-emergence herbicide, controlling weeds using power weeders and nutrient application management, as well as in the marketing and selling of dry grain.

Members of the self-help groups apply potash fertilizer to maize fields after sowing. Photo: Wasim Iftikar/CSISA

The work of self-help groups in Badbil on converting unused fallow land into productive cultivable land through maize farming has become a successful example for many farmers in neighboring areas. Their success story was published on the front page of a leading local newspaper, 'The Samaja,' on September 15, 2016, entitled “Women farmers produced gold in plateau.” Because of this work, this remote village is now known for turning fallow lands into golden maize.

In 2016, CSISA directly supported maize cultivation with the use of best management practices in more than 4500 acres in the Mayurbhanj district, a nearly 200 percent increase over 2015. Because of this work, maize farming in the region has changed from labor intensive and less profitable traditional practices to modern, efficient agricultural techniques with higher yields, and has asserted women’s fundamental role in the agricultural sector.

Text: Jennifer Johnson

Contributors: Anuradha Dhar, Wasim Iftikar, Cynthia Mathys

Photos: CSISA archives, Wasim Iftikar, Srikanth Kolari

Editors: Bianca Beks, Dave Watson

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