Millet based mixed farming – Coping with weather extremities

By reviving millet farming systems, the tribal households in Odisha have reduced their vulnerability to climate change. The millet based mixed farming has also helped in addressing the problem of malnutrition in the communities.

Rayagada and Koraput districts come under the backward Kalhandi, Bolangir and Koraput (KBK) region of Odisha.  With climate change fluctuations, the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers practicing subsistence agriculture have become highly vulnerable. The change in climate particularly in rainfall patterns and temperature has destabilized agricultural productivity, affecting the livelihoods, food security, income and health of the tribal families.

The slopy upland which is mainly rainfed is affected in many ways due to climate change in terms of delayed and untimely rains, long dry spells and deficit rainfall. Due to continuous dry spell and delayed monsoon, land becomes dry and difficult to plough. Heavy downpour continuously for 2-3 days erodes the top soil, washing away the seeds, resulting in poor crop production.  Also, early exit of rain and late arrival of winter also limits the scope of Rabi crops. The forest coverage and availability of seasonal fruits like mango, jackfruit, berries and edible tubers has been on the decline. The diet diversity has also reduced due to less availability of varieties of cereals and pulses. All factors combined together, are threatening the food and nutrition security, life and livelihood of the vulnerable tribal families.

Revival of millet based farming systems

Though millet was the staple food of the tribals in these districts the consumption of rice has increased since last 10 to 15 years. But, still the old generation is fond of certain traditional varieties of millet namely Mandia, Sua, Knagu, Jana and Guduji. From the consultations and studies conducted by different CSOs, it was found that millets have potential to address issues relating to long dry spells, water scarcity situation and malnutrition. In this backdrop, Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) through local NGO partner EKTA and Integrated Development Society has taken up revival of millet based farming systems. The broad objective was to reduce the climate change vulnerability by promoting nutrition sensitive millet based mixed farming systems. The programme was implemented in 12 villages of Rayagada and Koraput districts of Odisha in 2013. Later in 2016, another 12 villages were further added in both these districts.

The initiative was promoted with 637 Paraja tribal families in Panchada gram panchayat of Laxmipur block, and with 846 Kandha tribal families in Kutuli and Kumbhikota gram panchayats of Rayagada districts. These tribal households largely depended on upland agriculture and local wage labor. The average landholding is 0.5 acres to 1.5 acres which is slopy and undulated. Dependency on rainfed farming has made these communities highly vulnerable and insecure.

Women members preserved 34 traditional seed varieties of millets, pulses and vegetables.

The People Led Approach laying importance on experimentation, demonstration and replication was the key strategy. In the initial year, emphasis was on capacity building. Farmers were trained to identify opportunities in cultivating mixed crops like millets, pulses, oil seeds and tubers which have potential to cope with the climatic fluctuations and ensuring food and nutrition requirements. At every village, Village Action Team (VAT) was formed.  Participatory village resource appraisal process was conducted. Weather calendar was prepared in each village and specific crops for each season were identified. The potential farmers (men, women) for experimentation and adoption were identified by the Village Action Team (VAT).  Eight Farmer Clubs and 6 Seed Committees were formed.

Cross learning sessions were organized for various groups – Village Action Team, Farmers Club and Seed Committees, for sharing their experiences and knowledge.  As a result, the Seed Committees with the project support arranged 14 types of millets, 3 types of pulses and 2 types of maize seeds. These seeds were distributed among the identified farmers for demonstration in 2014.

Regular exchange programmes were organized by the Village Action Teams on seed multiplication, compost preparation, bio pesticides preparation, seed collection to attract the young farmers towards agriculture. Farmers groups prepared organic pesticides and compost pits at homestead level with agricultural wastes.

During 2016, millet based mixed farming was expanded to 407 famers on 148 acres. The production of different crops was 718 quintals and resulted approximately in an additional 180 kilograms of food grains consisting of cereals, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables (Table 1). This was sufficient to meet the food needs for 3 to 4 months. The diverse diet included proteins, carbohydrates, fibers, starch, vitamins and minerals.

Table 1: Types of mixed millet farming as per the different slopes of the land
Crop Acre Farmers Production in quintal
Jowar+Bajra+Maize 24 68 284
Little Millet+Red gram 18 64 178
Little Millet+oil seed 16 44 68
Finger millet/cowpea/Jowar 22 45 57
Little Millet+black&greengram+Vegetable 58 186 131
Total 138 407 718

Most of the millets produced are being consumed at the household level. Millets are cooked as rice and cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Foxtail millet (Kangu) and Pearl millet ( Bajra) are consumed as Upma. Ragi is consumed as soup, while sorghum is made into powder, along with ragi. Although millet is used for household consumption, it is also sold when they have cash needs. Due to lack of effective marketing facility, the needy families often sell it to the local buyers at a relatively lower price,  as compared to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) declared by the Government.


Women and seed conservation

The women farmers played crucial role in seed collection, selection, preservation and storage of the local resilient varieties.  Seed Committee members in Ledriguda, Temariguda, Nirariguda, Hodikendra, Temariguda, Bada Manadara Mandangi, DarnaMiniaka and Kurumunda have preserved 34 traditional seed varieties of millets, pulses and vegetables (See Table 2). The collected quality seeds are being kept in the earthen pots and plastic containers. The seeds are properly dried and kept with local preservatives mostly Bengunia (Sindhuar/Nergundi) and Neem leaves.  The physical location of seed bank varies from village to village as per the availability of dry and safe place. A document is being maintained by them. The document explains the contribution and variety of seeds they have collected and also about the distribution.

Table 2: Types of seeds conserved

Name of the millet Period of cultivation Period of harvesting Seeds available with the seed bank members(local names)
Little black/ Barnyard Millet (Suan) Last week of May November HoruKohoda, JinjariKohoda, MunyaKohoda, KoturuKohoda, Jorutotili and TeyaKohoda
Foxtail/Italian Millet(Kangu) June November TeyaArka (small size) and KajaArka (big size)
White/Great MilletSorghum (Janha) June December DasaraJanha, TeyaJanha, DeruJanha, DeplaJanha and PartiJanha (big size)SetraJanha, Katia Mata/KabaJanha and AndaJanha (small size)
Ragi/Mandia June September, November (3 months) Hikiritoya,  KumdateyaDasaraMudu, Manji, PaluTeya, KorkatiTeya,  Kodiagoti, Dipka(6 months)Janbu, Modoimuskori, Gangara, Sonadei, Kara, Koduru, Kerenga
Pearl/Spike Millet/ Bajra (Kuya,Ganthia) June November Kuya/Ghantia
Guduji (Local name) Millet

Upscaling and sustainability

The initiative was started in 2014 with 45 farmers on 11 acres of land and subsequently more farmers joined the process. During 2016, millet based mixed farming was expanded to 407 famers on 148 acres. This year (2017),  456 farmers have cultivated different kinds of millets with pulses and oilseeds in 156 acres in 18 villages. This is an indication for their collective efforts to bring back their age old agricultural and food practices and also meet the present food security demands. The village level institutions are also taking up initiatives on their own.(See Box 1).

Box 1

Niraniguda VAT members identified a patch of 20 hectares of upland during vulnerability assessment. Around 11 landless poor tribal families were asked to initiate farming activities with the condition that all the members need to pay Rs 100 each per year to the village committee. Convergence with MGNREGA was also mobilized for land development activities. Nearly 4000 cashew seedlings were raised and planted in 5 hectare of upper ridge land.  Inter cropping (millet farming) was also practiced with vegetable cultivation and on the bunds, tuber plantation was initiated. The members fetched water by diverting a perennial water stream through a channel which is located at 2km to their agricultural fields. Now they are able to cultivate paddy, millet, pulses, oilseeeds, vegetables and tubers, with papaya and banana and tapioca.

Although a small initiative, it sets an example to others who want to address their livelihoods and food security issues in similar socio cultural and agro climatic conditions.

The tribal families no more feel dependent on others for inputs and money. Sita Saunta and Sali Saunta of Ledriguda shared that “millet farming does not require money and they need not borrow for seeds and chemicals. Even the children have the knowledge and information associated with millets”.  Similarly, Astajani, a women farmer from village Niraniguda, says that “during the lean period when PDS rice is no more available at home, the millets, tubers, leafy vegetables and forest foods come to our rescue”.

The nutrition value and the climate resilience capacity of millets has provided food and nutrition security to the marginalized farmers. The future focus will be on conservation and propagation of traditional and local varieties of millets through seed banks.


The cooperation of the staff, the community representatives and the farmers in the intervention areas and the support provided by Mr. Amit Kumar Nayak and Mr. Biswambar Sahoo in sharing information and photographs for the article is gratefully acknowledged.

Krushna Chandra Sahu
Head, Livelihood-Programmes
Indo-Global Social Service Society
28 Institutional Area, Lodhi Road, New Delhi

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