Tribal women in India find value in maize cultivation photo story: vedachalam dakshinamurthy & wasim iftikar

Maize is a staple crop that requires a limited amount of water and inputs, and earns farmers a profit, thanks to its growing demand as food and feed for livestock. Adivasi women farmers in Odisha are increasing maize yields by applying improved maize intensification technologies.

Gudugudia Adivasi settlement, within the forest landscape of Simlipal Tiger Reserve, Odisha. Photo: Vedachalam Dakshinamuthy, CIMMYT

Indigenous women play an important role in reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition and promoting social and economic development. There are an estimated 370-500 million indigenous people in the world, spread across 90 countries. They live in all geographic regions and represent 5,000 different cultures. Hill Kharia, belonging to the Primitive Tribal Group classification of the Indian Government, live on the fringes of Similipal Tiger Reserve, located in Mayurbhanj, Odisha. They are very close to nature and the tribe’s culture is influenced by its ecological and cultural surroundings.

Hill Kharias, the adiviasi women's economic condition is very poor, they have low literacy levels, and they lack knowledge of better-bet agricultural practices. To improve the socio-economic condition of Hill Kharia, the Government has launched a variety of programs to support them. Photo: Vedachalam Dakshinamuthy, CIMMYT
Local variety of maize cultivated by Adivasi women in their kitchen garden. Photo: Vedachalam Dakshinamuthy, CIMMYT

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), is providing technical support to the Association for Development Initiatives, which implements the Odisha Primitive Tribal Group Empowerment and Livelihood Improvement Program (OPELIP) and the Odisha State Department of Agriculture at Gudugudia in Mayurbhanj. OPELIP facilitates access to land, natural resources, agricultural technologies, financial services, markets, productive and social infrastructure, and essential social services for tribal populations in Odisha. Given the severe malnutrition prevalent in primitive tribal group villages, OPELIP also helps tribal groups diversity the crops they cultivate so they have more foods to eat and more to sell in the market. This is where maize cultivation comes in.

The Adivasi women and team ready for action, after the trial run. Photo: Wasim Iftikar, CIMMYT
Women applying required fertilizer along the tracks of seed drill. Photo: Wasim Iftikar
The young maize seedling and the women group observing the field and planning for weed management. Photo: Wasim Iftikar, CIMMYT

Adivasi women farmers in Gudugudia have been mobilized into self-help groups and exposed to a variety of agricultural development initiatives. As a part of OPELIP, 15 women members from four different self-help groups (i.e., Om Sairam, Maa Sarawati, Maa Sarawati and Jayabadam SHG) joined hands to cultivate hybrid maize, the first time improved maize hybrids were grown in their area.

Working together: sun drying of green cobs, the hybrid maize yields are ready for shelling.

Gudugudia village is home to 40 tribal families who mostly farm for a living. They usually grow local maize varieties in home gardens for household consumption and then sell the limited surplus as green cob in the local market. Yields are often low because farmers use unimproved varieties and traditional sowing methods and lack information about better-bet agronomic practices, especially weed and nutrient management. CSISA’s technical support to the women, focusing on improved maize cultivation techniques, helped the women improve their understanding, their capacity and their yields, says Wasim Iftikar, Research Associate, CIMMYT.

Women in action: Processing of dry cobs of maize. Photo: Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy

Using improved maize hybrids, precision nutrient management techniques and improved weed management practices has helped the women increase their yields. This year the group harvested more than 33 quintals from seven acres of land. After keeping some green cob and dry grain for their household use, the rest was sold, netting them INR 52,000 (USD 730). They were able to keep their profits because OPELIP covered the cost of inputs; after selling their surplus, members split part of the income and the remaining profit was added to their corpus fund.

Loading of processed dry grains in truck. CSISA facilitated marketing of the dry maize grain to Venkateswara Hatcheries Private Limited, providing good price for the total yield from the Adivasi settlements.
Sustainable intensification of maize, economically empowers indigenous community members. Photo: Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy

“We never thought we could earn money and support our families through maize cultivation. This is an eye-opener for us. We are planning to increase the area of cultivation for maize and will convince our family members and other women to join us,” says Joubani Dehuri

Maize cultivation has transformed from traditional practices, which were labor intensive and less profitable, and affirms indigenous women’s fundamental role in food and nutrition security. Photo: Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) is a regional initiative to sustainably increase the productivity of cereal-based cropping systems, thus improving food security and farmers’ livelihoods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. CSISA works with public and private partners to support the widespread adoption of resource-conserving and climate-resilient farming technologies and practices. The initiative is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.



Vedachalam DakshinaMurthy, Wasim Iftikar, CIMMYT

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