Read full article By Karthikeyan Hemalatha @ mint Lounge Photo Credit:/Thinkstock
Decades of sustainable farming helped a group of 5,000 women farmers of the Deccan Development Society cut ties with markets and cash crops
Sixty-five-year-old M Mogullamma, a Dalit farmer from Telangana, is almost offended when asked if the pandemic, the lockdown and the economic slowdown affected her livelihood. “I had a good produce this year, more than we needed to survive,” she says. She is part of a collective of 5,000-odd women, Deccan Development Society (DDS), which promotes sustainable and community-led organic farming.
The women farmers of Sangareddy district, who are part of DDS, say they’ve been the exception in a year when farmers across the country suffered, and attribute their resilience to the sustainable farming practices they’ve been following for close to 40 years. As women farmers trying to make ends meet, they’ve focused on growing indigenous crops that can weather wild changes in climate, and crops with nutritional over commercial value to sustain their families first. They’re not dependent on the market for food security, but only sell their excess produce now.
In March 2020, the lockdown to limit the spread of covid-19 brought supply chains to a halt, leaving farmers with tonnes of produce they could not sell. Farmers without business meant many daily labourers too struggled to make ends meet. Mogullamma and her fellow farmers stepped in to help. “Since all of us had a good season as usual, we went from village to village to distribute jowar flour, chilli powder, tamarind, pulses, and jaggery. We made ragi malt and distributed it to pregnant women. We handed over the supplies to anganwadi teachers,” she says.
In October 2020, unprecedented floods wiped out crops worth ₹8,633 crore across Telangana. The capital city, Hyderabad, recorded 324mm of rain in 24 hours for the first time in two decades. Sangareddy district received 83% excess rainfall during the North-East monsoon between 1 October and 31 December 2020. Farmer leaders estimate at least 20 lakh acres of farmlands were flooded, making an already dire situation worse. “The excess moisture in the soil gave my ginger crops rhizome rot. Instead of the usual harvest of about 100 quintals per acre, last year I could harvest only 75 quintals,” says Sanjeev Rathod, a farmer from Gousabad village who owns nine acres of land. “This is the first time I am facing such losses. Ginger is usually a reliable crop.
Conventional farmers faced a double whammy as their dependence on pesticides means the soil retains less water. “Pesticide usage reduces the water-absorbing capacity of the soil. Those who grew commercial crops faced the biggest losses as they use the most pesticides. As the rains were low the last two years, and farmers switched to dry crops which made things worse. Just two days of rains in October last year was enough to cause losses in nearly 15% of all farmlands in this region,” says the mandal panchayat development officer for Sangareddy district, S Srinivasa Rao. “The situation was similar in 2015 when there were heavy rains,” he added.