Nutrition in backyard gardens: Odisha’s tribal women show the way

The vegetable women grow not only help them eat healthy, but also sell surplus produce and make a living of their own  

By Abhijit Mohanty
Published: Monday 08 March 2021

The tribal women of Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district have been earning their place in the sun: At least a 1,000 of them have established their own vegetable gardens — and the freedom to decide what they get to eat.

From Brinjal to lemons, they cultivate it all. This is how they spoil themselves for choice while ensuring they diversify nutrient intake without relying on expensive vegetables from the weekly market. They sometimes sell the surplus produce as well.

“We grow brinjal, tomatoes, reddish, pumpkin, bottle gourd and chilies. We have also planted papaya, lemon and moringa,” said Niati (32), a farmer from Chatrama village. She is from the Bhuiya adivasi community.

She added that she earned Rs 8,000 from the surplus produce in four months.

Sumati Singh (32) from Basipitha village said: “We consumed nearly 200 kilograms of vegetables harvested from our nutri-garden in the last six months.” She belongs to the Santal adivasi community.

She said the vegetables not only help her eat healthy, but also let her save Rs 200-300 a week.

“I share the surplus with neighbours who don’t have enough,” she said.

The 1,000-odd tribal women farmers in Khunta block, which spreads across 128 villages, have established their nutri-gardens with the support of Khunta Block Administration and Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM). The initiative was launched in 2020 in the block.

The intiative targets women with children under five years age, pregnant women, lactating women and households headed by women.

Each farmer gets Rs 6,831 to prepare a plot of nutri-garden under Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA).

What is a nutri-garden

There are two types of nutri-garden models: Circular and rectangular. Farmers in Khunta have largely replicated the circular model, which has seven rings that include variety of organic green and leafy vegetables, tubers, roots and fruits.

“We have designed the model according to the resources available locally. Families can start harvesting vegetables 45 days after establishing a nutri-garden,” said Babita Patra, master book keeper (MBK), Basipitha panchayat. One MBK a panchayat executes community-based outreach activities under OLM.

Villagers choose crops depending upon their nutritional value, traditional acceptance, harvest frequency, market price, crop seasons and safety hazard scale, she added.

Niati with her five-year-old daughter inside her backyard garden. Photo: Abhijeet Mohanty

“Crop diversity is fundamental,” said Malati Sahu, MBK, Bholagadia panchayat. The cropping pattern is designed in a way that its production is perennial round the year. New plants are sown a few days prior to existing plants reaching their fruiting stage.

“This ensures continuous production of vegetables,” said Srinibas Das, block livelihood development officer, OLM. “Such crop cycles also help manage pests and diseases.”

How to design a nutri-garden

A nutria-garden requires nearly 800 square feet land. It must receive adequate sunlight through all cropping seasons.

The centre of a nutri-garden is marked by fixing a stump. A circle of radius 15 feet is then drawn with this stump as the centre. Subsequently, four similar circles are drawn with radius of 3, 4.5, and 9 and 10.5 feet.

The outermost circle is divided into seven equal parts, wherein seven paths of 1.5 feet width are made. There is a pit in the centre that helps prepare compost from available agri-residues. Beds are then prepared by mixing god quality farm yard manure in soil.

Horticultural plants that need more sunlight are sown in the innermost circle. In the middle circle, plants which can grow under shade are sown. Creepers are sown in the vertices of seven pathways. Outermost circle is meant for leafy vegetables, tubers and other medicinal plants.

Jibamruta and mulching

Jibamruta — an organic manure rich in potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous — enhances microbial activity in the soil and supplements essential nutrients to the plant.

“The number of earthworm in the soil has increased, increasing crop yield and reducing fertiliser cost,” said Padmavati Beheram, a krushi mitra (farmers’ friend) at Bholagadia panchayat. 

“We use dried leaves from trees, tweaks and barks for mulching in our nutri-garden,” said Smurti Barik, farmer from Karkachia village.

Mulch helps retain soil moisture for a longer duration, according to Sarojini Mohanty, an MBK in Bahanada panchayat.

Rama Chandra Dalai, block livelihood development coordinator, OLM, said:

“Mulching eventually turns into compost. It provides sufficient nutrition to plants and helps form microorganisms and restore soil fertility.”

A game-changer

“Nutri-gardens have become a game-changer in the time of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. They have helped reduced malnutrition,” said Manas Ranjan Samal, block development officer, Odisha Administrative Service, Khunta.

Regular consumption of chemical-free vegetables and seasonal fruits have helped villagers bridge the nutrient gap.

The gardens have helped the tribal community to stave off economic hardship. In Khunta, for instance, tribal women farmers are able to save up to Rs 1,000-1,500 a month.

“Buying vegetables during summer used to be a daily struggle. But the situation has now changed,” said Champa Soren, sarapanch, Bholagadia panchayat. The women sell the surplus vegetables and fruits and generate constant source of income round the year.

Ajay Kumar Nayak, district project manager, OLM, Mayurbhanj, said:

“The model requires small investment and promises bigger returns. Nutri-gardens can strengthen a household’s resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related risks and natural calamities.”

Sumanta Majhi, sarapanch, Karakachia panchayat stressed the government and non-profits should focus on traditional seed varieties.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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