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Millets and Women:
In the intricate tapestry of agriculture, nutrition, and empowerment, millets emerged as humble yet powerful grains, woven together with the indomitable spirit of women. As the world celebrated the International Year of Millets in 2023, a spotlight illuminated the pivotal role women played in the cultivation, conservation, and commercialization of these ancient grains and India took the lead. In this article, we embark on a journey through the intertwined narratives of millets and women, exploring how they symbolize empowerment and resilience in the modern era and taking millets forward.
Historical Perspective of Millets and Women:
Millets have deep roots in human history, nourishing civilizations for millennia. Across continents and cultures, women have been the custodians of millet knowledge, passing down traditional farming practices from one generation to the next. From the fertile plains of Asia to the arid landscapes of Africa, women have sowed the seeds of sustenance, their hands weathered by toil and wisdom.
Beyond their nutritional richness, millets hold the promise of economic empowerment for women. As climate change threatens conventional crops, millets emerge as resilient alternatives, capable of thriving in diverse agroecological conditions. For women in rural communities, millet farming offers not just sustenance but also economic independence, challenging gender norms and fostering self-reliance.
Millets and Women in Food and Nutrition:
In the realm of food and nutrition, women play a pivotal role in promoting the consumption of healthy and nutritious meals, with millets emerging as a cornerstone of their culinary endeavors. As primary caregivers and homemakers, women wield significant influence over the dietary choices of their families, ensuring that meals are not only delicious but also packed with essential nutrients.
Millets, renowned for their rich nutritional profile, have become integral ingredients in the kitchens of countless households, thanks to the efforts of women who recognize their immense health benefits. From savory dishes like millet-based soups, millet biriyani, and salads to delectable treats such as millet muffins, cookies, and pancakes, women showcase their culinary creativity by incorporating millets into a diverse array of recipes.
Through their dedication to providing wholesome and nourishing meals made with millets, women are not only promoting the well-being of their families but are also championing a culture of health and nutrition within their communities. Their role as custodians of food and nutrition underscores the symbiotic relationship between millets and women, wherein both thrive in nurturing and nourishing one another.
Women’s Involvement in Millet Conservation and Farming:
In the quiet corners of farmland and homestead, women emerge as the unsung heroes of millet conservation, their efforts often hidden from the limelight. Through seed-saving initiatives and biodiversity preservation endeavors, they serve as custodians of genetic diversity, ensuring the resilience of millets in the face of environmental uncertainty. One such remarkable individual is Raimati Ghiuria, a 36-year-old member of the tribal Bhumia community in Odisha, whose extraordinary contributions have brought about significant change in her society.
Raimati’s journey of preserving millet landraces in the Koraput district of Odisha gained widespread recognition. To date, she has conserved an astonishing 30 millet landraces, a testament to her dedication and commitment. One such Finger Millet landrace variety preserved by Raimati, known as Kundra Bati, exemplifies the potential of indigenous varieties to contribute to food security and sustainability.
Lahri Bai, a 27-year-old Baiga woman from the heart of Madhya Pradesh’s Dindori district, has emerged as a guardian of genetic diversity, particularly of Indian millets, through her remarkable initiative – a “Millet Seed Bank.” Over the past decade, Lahri has meticulously collected and preserved precious millet varieties in earthen containers, earning her the well-deserved title of the “Millet Queen of India.”
Lahri Bai’s Millet seed bank houses a diverse collection of millet varieties, including landraces and wild types, many of which are on the verge of extinction. Within its confines lie treasures like various types of Kang, Salahar, Kodo, and Kutki. Lahri’s generosity extends beyond her doorstep, as she generously shares millet seeds with farmers in approximately 25 villages, perpetuating the legacy of these ancient grains.
Millets and Women in Entrepreneurship and Business Ventures:
In the bustling markets and vibrant streets, women entrepreneurs are reshaping the narrative of millets, transforming them from mere grains to gourmet delights. From artisanal bakeries to innovative food processing units, women-led businesses are harnessing the nutritional prowess of millets, catering to a growing demand for healthy and sustainable foods. In their entrepreneurial endeavors, women not only find economic empowerment but also a sense of purpose and pride.
Mission Shakti, a groundbreaking initiative by the Government of Odisha, serves as a beacon of women’s empowerment, transforming lives and communities across the region. Through the establishment of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and the promotion of skill development and financial inclusion, Mission Shakti empowers women to break societal barriers and become agents of change. One such inspiring story is that of the Swayam Sraddha SHG Group, whose journey exemplifies the transformative power of empowerment.
During the challenging lockdown period, the group recognized the need for accessible food supplies and pioneered online delivery services for dry rations, vegetables, and fruits, bridging the gap between urban and rural areas.
The group’s turning point came with the introduction of 40 varieties of traditional Pitha (cakes) in their ward in 2021. Emphasizing millet-based offerings, these culinary delights not only showcased the group’s culinary skills but also highlighted their commitment to preserving traditional flavors with a modern twist. Their success led to the management of the Millet Outlet at Kalinga Stadium, inaugurated by Hon’ble Chief Minister, Shri Naveen Patnaik, during the Men’s FIH Hockey World Cup.
With recipe training from the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Bhubaneswar, the group now serves a delightful array of bakery items, cooked dishes, and beverages to over 200 visitors daily. Their entrepreneurial spirit has propelled the outlet to exceptional monthly turnovers, reaching nearly Rs. 9 to 10 lakh per month, catering to both millet-based products and event services at Kalinga Stadium.
The journey of the Swayam Sraddha SHG Group from homemakers to millet entrepreneurs exemplifies the transformative impact of women’s empowerment under Mission Shakti. Their evolution from an SHG to a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) showcases their leadership and resilience, inspiring countless others to pursue their dreams and contribute to the socio-economic fabric of their communities.
Another inspiring story of a woman millet entrepreneur. Sharmila Jain Oswal, propelled by her entrepreneurial spirit and a vision for healthier food options, founded the millet startup “Gud Mom.” Inspired by a discussion about the nutritional benefits of millets and the dearth of wholesome food choices, Sharmila embarked on a journey to revolutionize the food industry. “Gud Mom” quickly gained traction with its diverse range of products, including millet noodles, pasta, biscuits, crackers, and herb sticks, all crafted to offer nutritious alternatives to traditional options.
With a strong commitment to sustainability and community empowerment, Sharmila’s venture has not only transformed the dietary habits of consumers but has also made a significant impact on the livelihoods of millet farmers nationwide. By employing over 5,000 millet farmers and ensuring fair compensation for their produce, “Gud Mom” has emerged as a catalyst for socio-economic development in rural areas.
The success of “Gud Mom” is evident in its remarkable financial performance, with annual revenues exceeding ₹16 crore. This financial achievement is a testament to Sharmila’s dedication to quality, innovation, and ethical business practices. Furthermore, her initiatives have been recognized and lauded by prestigious institutions such as the Indian Institute of Millet Research, which bestowed upon “Gud Mom” the “Poshak Anaj Award 2022” and recognized it as the “Best Startup in Organic Farming 2021.”
In recognition of her exemplary efforts to promote millet cultivation and foster a culture of sustainability, Sharmila Jain Oswal was honored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This acknowledgment underscores the significant impact of Sharmila’s endeavors in promoting nutritious and environmentally conscious food choices, positioning “Gud Mom” as a beacon of innovation and social responsibility in the food industry.
Millets and Women in Odisha Millets Mission:
Under the auspices of the Odisha Millets Mission, a remarkable transformation is taking place, empowering women across the region through innovative initiatives centered around millets. These initiatives go beyond mere agricultural practices; they are revolutionizing the socio-economic landscape and fostering a newfound sense of empowerment among women.
One such initiative involves the establishment of Custom Hiring Centers managed entirely by women. These centers serve as hubs of agricultural innovation, providing farmers with access to modern machinery and equipment for millet cultivation. By taking charge of these centers, women are not only breaking traditional gender norms but are also playing a pivotal role in driving agricultural productivity and efficiency.
In addition to Custom Hiring Centers, women are also at the forefront of managing Community Managed Seed Centers, where they oversee the distribution of high-quality millet seeds to farmers. Through these centers, women are not only preserving indigenous seed varieties but are also ensuring that farmers have access to the resources they need to thrive in their agricultural endeavors.
Furthermore, women are spearheading Bio-input enterprises, producing organic fertilizers and pesticides that promote sustainable farming practices. By embracing eco-friendly alternatives, these enterprises are not only safeguarding the environment but are also enhancing soil health and crop yields, thus contributing to the overall prosperity of farming communities.
The impact of these initiatives goes beyond economic empowerment; they are fostering a sense of pride and self-reliance among women, empowering them to take control of their destinies and contribute meaningfully to their communities. Through their involvement in millet-related activities, women are reclaiming their place as stewards of the land, driving positive change, and paving the way for a brighter, more sustainable future.
As we look to the horizon, the future of millets and women is imbued with possibility and promise. In an increasingly uncertain world, millets stand as beacons of resilience, nourishing both body and soul. And in the hands of women, they become instruments of empowerment, shaping a future where every seed sown is a testament to the indomitable spirit of womanhood.
In the intricate dance of agriculture and empowerment, millets and women emerge as partners in progress, their destinies intertwined, their futures entwined. As we celebrate their resilience and resolve, let us pledge to nurture and support their journey, ensuring that the coin of empowerment shines ever brighter, illuminating the path to a more just and sustainable world.
Author: Tapas Chandra Roy, A Certified Farm Advisor on Millets, ‘Promoting Millets from Farm to Plate’ and an Author of the book -” Millet Business Ideas-Empowering Millet Startups”. In a mission to take the forgotten grains- Millets to Millions. To remain updated on my blogs on Millets please subscribe to my newsletter and for any queries please feel free to write to [email protected]
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