A stepping stone towards Himachal’s food sovereignty: The Tribune India
Some crops make us money but are not resistant to climate change, then there are crops that survive extreme weather conditions but fail in the market, ”says Kishor Chand from Seraj Valley in Himachal Pradesh, highlighting the dilemma most farmers face. in the age of climate change.
Ragi is grown on a variety of soils, ranging from rich potting mix to poor shallow upland soils.
Preparation of the ground
Two to three plows are necessary to prepare a good seedbed. Rotten farmyard manure (300 quintals per hectare) should be mixed with the soil before sowing.
The opportune time is the first week of May. However, it can be sown until the third week of May, depending on weather conditions. In low-lying areas and marginal lands, sowing can be done until the third week of June.
Harvesting and threshing
The harvest is ready for harvest from the first week of October. The plants are cut close to the ground. The dried ear heads are beaten with sticks to separate the grains or the sheaves are trampled underfoot by oxen. The separated grains are winnowed and cleaned.
The United Nations General Assembly has adopted 2023 as the International Year of Millet. The main objective of this initiative is to raise public awareness of the nutritional and health benefits of millet and its suitability for cultivation in adverse and changing climatic conditions, and to encourage political action in this direction.
Rainfed states like Himachal Pradesh need to draw heavily on this initiative. The state’s agrarian livelihoods are significantly affected by climate change. Extreme weather events, precipitation and temperature are reported to deviate from their long-term trends. This had considerably affected the production and income of the farms. According to Subhash Singh, a smallholder from Kangra district, “This season we have waited a long time, but it was not raining when the wheat planting was planted. Last year we saw a heavy hailstorm a few weeks before harvest. For two consecutive years, we have failed to achieve the desired yield of wheat. “
The last four to five decades of agrarian practices in Himachal Pradesh have created the conditions for climate change. A section of researchers asserts that the intensive monoculture agrarian system has contributed significantly to the acceleration of climatic variations. A faulty agrarian system and climate change have had a negative impact on the productivity and income of farms and have significantly affected the health of nature and humans. This results in the drying up of water sources, reduced soil fertility, the fragility of forests and increased health problems for populations.
According to state statistical reports, the area devoted to ragi and common millet has fallen to just 6,000 hectares from nearly 35,000 hectares over the past 40 years. Multiple factors have driven these trends, in particular the indiscriminate push for the Green Revolution-inspired approach in Himachal Pradesh. In the monoculture regime, this is accentuated by the lack of support for the purchase of millet and by the insistence on the use of chemical fertilizers. Almost 90% of the state’s households are covered by the public distribution system (PDS), but the food basket is largely filled with rice and wheat imported from neighboring states. This ensured the state’s food security but took away its food sovereignty. A combination of all these factors wiped the millets off the farms as well as the plates of Himachalis. Currently, the state relies heavily on the import of food grains to meet PDS needs. The main nutrition and health indicators fall into alarming categories, with more than 50% of children and women anemic.
Current conditions need to be remedied in a timely manner and the past appears to hold important lessons. According to a section of farmers and policy professionals, promoting indigenous agrarian practices, especially millet cultivation, may prove to be the best climate change mitigation strategy.
At a time when the farming communities of Himachal Pradesh are bearing the brunt of climate change, declining farm incomes and deteriorating health, millets appear to be the best bet to stop the slide.
Millet and other varieties of native crops are said to be the most resistant to climate change. In addition, they contribute the least to emissions because they develop under agro-climatic conditions and consume a minimum of extrinsic inputs. Experience from the past two decades of climate change mitigation programs in agrarian livelihoods suggests that any approach that is not financially viable on the farmer’s side will fail to produce results regardless of its scientific merits. The cost of growing millet is relatively lower than that of the main crops; their nutritional benefits are more important. Millet contains a higher amount of minerals, protein and vitamins than rice or wheat.
Witness to the potential of millet in Himachal Pradesh has been provided by farmer collectives in recent years. One of these initiatives is Parvatiye Tikau Kheti Abhiyan (PTKA), a group of farmers in association with some NGOs working to revive millet in the Karsog valley, in the district of Mandi. Nekram, a progressive farmer and key PTKA official, says: “Initially, 7-8 years ago, we started out in a small group. We started with kodra (finger millet) and sowed it in a culture associated with the main crops. Over the years, the production, even in a year of erratic rainfall, has remained good and doctors have started to recommend its consumption for health reasons. This word of mouth publicity helped us reach out to a group of 500 farmers in our area.
“In the following period, we started to raise awareness about the urgency of millet cultivation and share recipes to revive them in the food culture. In this process, we have reached a scale where we grow for our own needs. But to expand it further geographically and in terms of productivity, we mainly need better seeds, hulling machines and a secure market, ”he adds.
In recent years, the government of Himachal Pradesh has initiated efforts in this direction. As part of its Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kisan (PK3) program, the Department of Agriculture promotes non-chemical agriculture. According to Ravindra A, an agrarian system expert associated with the Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture Network, “millets disappeared due to an alternative agrarian system that emerged after the 1960s and came with a package of input subsidies, research and extension institutions and a market assured by supply to the MSP. The millet renaissance also needs a complete alternative system which cannot be limited to input support, procurement or training / awareness, but rather a mixture of it all. We need to focus on production, productivity, processing and sourcing simultaneously and rigorously if we are to bring back millets in any meaningful way.
While millets alone cannot counter the impact of climate change, they have the potential to do their part. Himachal Pradesh should take a holistic approach to revive millets to boost resilience to climate change as well as improve the incomes of farming families and, in the long run, achieve food sovereignty.
The author is State Coordinator (HP), Revitalizing Rainfed