Hyderabad: Women farmers, although constitute a sizeable proportion of Indian agrarian society, they are often underappreciated and unrewarded. To address such issues and ensure efforts of women farmers are recognised and earn a respectable living through farming, a Hyderabad-based entrepreneur, Vishala Reddy Vuyyala, had founded Millet Bank in 2020.
Growing up, Vishala experienced that several women worked on the family farms, and yet they weren’t appreciated for it. “Her day starts before sunrise and continues after sunset. Her work is not just in the farm but is an addition to the role of a wife, a daughter-in-law and a mother. But her efforts are unrecognised and voice unheard,” said Vishala about the women farmers.
Through the Millet Bank initiative, since August 2020 the entrepreneur has been able to engage with over 50 female farmers and is planning to rope-in at least 250 more by June 2021. She aims to reclaim 150 to 200 acres of land and encourage farmers to grow millets in the coming year.
But, why millets? “Millets are staple crops grown by thousands of farming families living in upland and rainfed areas,” said Vishala, adding, “Over the decades people have started relying more on rice and wheat. As a result, several farmers have also moved towards cultivating such crops. Our goal is to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers.”
However, not all farmers were easily convinced. “They don’t see millets as a crop that will sell easily and hence they hesitate to cultivate. But when you sit with them and explain to them the various benefits of growing millets, they understand.”
The Millet Bank initiative aims not only to empower female farmers, but also to revive the forgotten traditional Indian practices. “Our ancestors have left behind certain knowledge about farming and we aim at bringing them back. Navadhanyalu, or nine grains, is a crop-rotation practice which was followed widely by ancient farmers. As per this practice, they would grow different crops on their farm, such as kandulu (pigeon pea), minappappu (black gram), sajjalu (pearl millets) and more. The benefit of this practice was that if one crop failed, the farmer had another crop to fall back on. It also helps in ensuring the fertility of the soil and prevents soil erosion,” she said.
The millet initiative is also ensuring that farmers are well aware of the new farming techniques, as well as the old ones. “We converted an agricultural shed into a community space and revamped it with the help of villagers, including craftsmen and artists. Our experts take sessions there for the farmers every now and then. We conduct webinars on various subjects as well,” the entrepreneur added.
To promote the consumption of millets among the younger generation, Vishala is also reinventing retailing of millets. She said, “The elderly know the benefits and consume millets in some form. The newer generation however, needs to include millets in their daily food. Hence, we have introduced a line of cookies that one can buy from our website.” Going forward, Vishala doesn’t just want to sell millets through Millet’s Bank, but also manufacture value added products.
Types of crop Millet Bank farmers are growing:
- Samalu or little millet: Contains slow-digesting carbs and dietary fibre, is rich in magnesium and aids those who have respiratory conditions
- Ragi or finger millet: Gluten-free and a rich source of good carbohydrates, it is also loaded with calcium and helps control diabetes
- Korralu or foxtail millet: Is rich in Vitamin B12 and helps reduce insulin and cholesterol and hence, is good for the heart. It is good for skin and hair too
- Sorghum or great millet: Is gluten-free, rich in fibre and packed with essential vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. Has a good amount of calcium, copper, zinc, phosphorous, potassium and cell-building B vitamins
- Sajja or pearl millet: Contains minerals such as calcium and magnesium, protein, fibre and iron. Is helpful against Type II Diabetes
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