A statistical study by MSSRF on Maharashtra farmers revealed that most women suffer from chronic energy deficiency, 45 percent of the children are malnourished and about 60 percent of pregnant women are anemic. Farmers who do not have land of their own or who have less than two hectares of land are facing greater issues in terms of growing crops that will sell and keeping up their own health. In addition, severe monetary and knowledge limitations mean that some villages only have rice paddy fields and some grow nothing but cotton or soybean. All the produce is sold to make money and keep their homes running.
MSSRF recognized the urgent need to guide these farmers and designed a long-term plan that began with gaining the trust of the farmers. Some with a decent size backyard were advised to grow different kinds of nutrient-rich crops, while those without land of their own were persuaded to keep a patch of their field for growing vegetables and pulses that they could consume. Although, for poor farmers, that meant giving up a lot, but they were explained the benefits of keeping themselves and their family healthy.
Women in these villages have shown great enthusiasm and even began community farming to save space. Since land space is such an issue, they approached the forestry department who supported the cause and allotted them small patches of land for cultivation. The researchers introduced sweet potatoes rich in vitamin A and varieties of wheat rich in zinc and iron. MSSRF also provided various fruit seeds and the farmers now grow guava, pomegranate, papaya and lemon. They are also encouraged to grow leafy vegetables to fight anemia among pregnant women.
After all these endeavours, change has started to show. Women grew carrots and orange flesh fruits because it helps eyesight, they learned all about the intercropping of pigeon peas and maize, as well as how to grow two kinds of crops in the same patch of land. This even led to better commercial sale for the farmers. Equipped with the knowledge to grow biofortified crops, half an acre of land fetches them a good amount of crop for consumption and sale.
The research foundation is making sure that this transformation remains permanent so that the future generations reap the benefits. Children in schools are taught all about kitchen gardening and nutrients. They have also appointed ‘community hunger fighters’ among men and women in the villages, who are trained in matters of seed preservation and daily diet to spread the right message about health and nutrition.
With such tailor-made plans for villages as per their land and medical needs, countless farmers and their families in Vidarbha and Wardha in Maharashtra have experienced drastic improvement. The northeastern state of Odisha has seen benefits too. The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation is working at a steady pace to spread the reach of their knowledge and help and improve the lives of as many farmers as they can.