Kodo millet, until recently, had been the staple diet for the Gond tribals of Madhya Pradesh. This hardy millet, however, lost ground to wheat and paddy. The tribal farmers of Katigahan village of Mandla district, who now realise the millet's food and nutrition potential, have teamed up with Caritas India to salvage kodo cultivation from the verge of extinction.
This initiative is one of several funded by the European Union to improve the climate resilience of small-scale farming in rain-fed areas of India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The project will directly benefit 3,000 families in 90 villages in 9 districts. Through its work with national agricultural research systems, extension networks and policy makers, it hopes to reach out eventually to around 10 million small farmers.
Reviving the production of kodo millet is part of project strategy. India consumes around 40% of the world's millets. The production of millets (like jowar, bajra, ragi and kodo) in India has, however, fallen in the last 50 years although these cereals are nutritionally rich, need much less water, and grow well on relatively inferior soils. In addition some of them have stalks that are good for fodder.Aghanoo Singh, a marginal farmer, led the community's initiative to bring kodo millet back to the cultivation system of the tribals of Katigahan. “Kodo cultivation had vanished from our village mainly because of our ignorance about its nutrition values. Problems of marketability and reducing yield have contributed to the decline in its cultivation”, Aghanoo Singh believes. Kodo millet or Paspalum Scrobiculatum is a hardy crop and thus suitable for the rugged mountainous terrain of Mandla where frequent droughts jeopardise the cultivation of all crops that require irrigation.
Kodo cropped up in one of the discussions of Farmer Field School (FFS) which was constituted in Katigahan village. While analysing the food insecurity that often hounds their village, farmers observed that kodo used to constitute a major part of their diet. “During the analysis we understood the correlation between our health and the prevalence of kodo cultivation. We observed that our health standards came down with the disappearance of kodo”, Aghanoo said.
Traditionally, farmers would simply scatter the seeds on unprepared land and would leave the crop to survive, returning to the field only for harvesting. This year, the farmers of Katigahan procured seeds of Jawahar-41, a high yielding millet variety from an agriculture university in Jabalpur, a neighbouring district, treated them with hot water and bavestine, and used botanicals and bio-manures prepared with locally available materials.
They prepared and applied matka khad, a highly effective nutrient solution prepared with cow urine, cow dung, leaves of neem (azadirachta indica), gram flour and sugar molasses. The result of the trial was impressive. “The kodo crop set several records unheard of in the entire Mandla region. The average panicle length of the crop was 4 cm against the normal length of 2 cm. The yield rate of 3.5 quintals per hectare was amazingly big”, said Valentine Denis, coordinator of the action research programme.
Since the farmers were apprehensive of the success of Kodo crop, they cultivated the crop only in small pieces of their farms. They are now enthusiastic about cultivating the millet during the next crop season and convinced that kodo can give them food security even during the lean summer months when they do not get enough food.
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