On World Food Day, India's women farmers show the way

Hyderabad: The 34th World Food Day is being observed today. As shortage of food introduces new challenges, a group of dalit women farmers in Medak district in Andhra Pradesh are working steadfastly towards preserving traditional farming practices, an effort which will help India tackle the serious malnutrition challenge it faces.

Applying and spreading their traditional knowledge of seeds, these Dalit women farmers are using biodiversity as a weapon against hunger, malnutrition, erratic monsoon and climate change. Their effort will earn these villages the status of being declared an agri-biodiversity heritage site.

Encouraging their children to take up agriculture, these women farmers are passing on their knowledge of traditional farming practices.

"Our children see a future in it. Even my daughter-in-law listens to me and is learning all about seeds," says Chandramma, a farmer from the Medak district of Andhra Pradesh.

Chandramma and many more like her are working to pass on the traditional knowledge of bio-diversity in agriculture.

Every season, these women sift through dozens of varieties of seeds and meticulously store the choicest seeds of dryland crops like bajra, jowar, pulses and oilseeds to be sown next season. Putting Rabi and Kharif crop together, at least 85 different varieties of seed are grown, says another farmer Lakshmamma.

According to the National convenor of Millet Network of India, P.V Satheesh, these women grow 12 types of crops in one acre.

"Some grow when there is no rain and some others can withstand excess water. This is intrinsically risk-insured agriculture. That is where the future seems to lie," he adds.

In January this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called the problem of malnutrition a matter of 'national shame'.

"Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high," he had said while releasing a report on Hunger and Malnutrition (HUNGaMA).

By bringing in biodiversity in agriculture, these woman farmers are paving the way to address the nation's challenges in the area of malnutrition.

Father of India's Green Revolution Dr M.S.Swaminathan calls millets 'climate-smart nutri-cereals' that can be the answer to the challenges of food and nutrition security facing India.

"Once millets are introduced in the public distribution system and awareness grows about their nutritional value, it will give a big boost, after all the Prime Minister has said that the biggest national shame is that 42-45 per cent of our women and children are still malnourished and undernourished," says Mr Swaminathan.

By educating others, these women farmers of Medak are arming the future generations with vital knowledge which will play an increasingly important role in addressing the challenges like hunger, nutrition, health, ecology and livelihood in India.

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