Strategies for reviving the agro-ecological approach

The centrality of any education system is knowledge. This article highlights how farmer’s traditional knowledge on millets was explored, revived and documented; how ‘farmer centric research process’ was carried out through participatory varietal trials; and, how the community based knowledge centre for testing, access and spread of knowledge was created.

Agro-ecology does not promote technical recipes but rather principles. It is not an agriculture of inputs but of processes. The technological generation process ideally must result from a participatory or farmer led research process in which farmers along with researchers provide input into the research questions and the design, running and evaluation of field experiment. Most traditional farmers have an intimate knowledge of their surroundings, especially within a local geographical and cultural radius.

Malkangiri is located in the southernmost district of Odisha. The major inhabitants of the district are Bondas, Koyas, Porajas and Didayis. Traditional millet varieties which were being grown traditionally by tribal communities in Malkangiri, gradually got replaced with High Yielding Varieties, promoted by the Government. There was little research and effort taken by Government department or any other agency to revive the valuable genetic resources of different crops. The change of climate drastically affected the survival of HYV which reduced yields and resulted in forced migration of the tribal communities.

This article explains the strategies adopted by Odisha Millet Mission to revive the traditional crops using agro-ecological approach and support their livelihood. Odisha Millets Mission is a flagship programme implemented by Watershed Support Services and Activities Network (WASSAN) with the support of Director Agriculture & Food Production (DAFP), Government of Odisha and Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies (NCDS), Bhubaneswar. WASSAN implemented the OMM activities through selected NGOs and Community Managed Organization (CBO) at CD block level. The mission’s overall effort was to raise state level productivity through implementation of various production methods (System of Millets Intensification- SMI, Line transplanting and Line sowing) in the operational villages of the mission.

The key processes adopted were

a) Exploration, documentation and in-situ conservation of traditional crops

b) Creating a vibrant community based Agro-ecological Centre at Chitrakonda, Malkangiri for wider exposure

c) Conducting participatory varietal trials with farmers enabling them to experiment and assess for themselves the merits of such varieties.

d) Establishing agro biodiversity registers

Exploration, documentation and in-situ conservation of traditional crops

Odisha Millet Mission has explored the landraces of rice, pulses and oil seeds which are still grown in few pockets of the districts. These varieties are kept both in field gene bank established in the block attached to Community Management Seed System (CMSS) programme of OMM and also in State Seed Testing Laboratories (SSTL) in Bhubaneswar in a cryogenic system. Till now, there were 97 traditional millet varieties stored in SSTL. In the field gene bank, landraces are grown in farmer’s field every year and farmers choose the best varieties for multiplication. The farmers can access the conserved landraces from SSTL if there is a loss of landrace due to any natural calamities.

Traditional millet varieties are collected from primary conserver/custodians from different districts with a prescribed format. The conservation activities are conducted in the agro-ecological center involving farmers in various stages – twice in a crop cycle, late vegetative stage and physiological maturity stage for collecting seed materials from the conservation plot. It is important to recognize the preferred varietal characteristics highlighted by conservers based on their contextual, multifunctional and cultural knowledge. This is where the traditional knowledge from the field broadens agriculture education with regard to desired characteristics of the local communities.

 Establishment of Agro-ecological Centre at Chitrakonda, Malkangiri

Community led Centre for Excellence for Agro-ecology and Agro-biodiversity was launched in Malkangiri by Government of Odisha.  The centre takes up participatory research on reviving and conserving local biodiversity, involving in-situ conservation and maintaining the genetic purity of landraces through collaboration of communities, especially WSHGs. It undertakes diverse seed production of endemic varieties demanded by the farmers and supplies them through Women SHGs/SHG Federations/Farmer producer organizations. Also, it focuses on maintaining biodiversity registers with the support of biodiversity management committees.

The explored millet landraces from different parts of Odisha are grown in Agro-ecological center and characterized on the prescribed format developed by All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) of India and Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) by ICAR-IIMR. Twelve Ragi landraces among 60 were promoted. The conserved varieties include, Proso millet, Barnyard millet, Browntop millet, Teff. Visitors including farmers and experts from research stations visited the plots and requested seed materials. Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) form is used to provide seed materials to different stakeholders. The visitors to the centre in 2021-22, around 68, included Directors of premier research institutions, Chief Secretary of Odisha, development professionals from civil societies and farmers.

Preparation of Agro-biodiversity Registers

 WASSAN in collaboration with department of Agriculture and Odisha Biodiversity Board has initiated to document traditional knowledge associated with different traditional crops in five clusters of Malkangiri district. The major communities active in these areas are Bonda, Didiya, Koya and Kondha. documentation format followed is as per the National Biodiversity Authority prescription.  In each Panchayat, the Biodiversity Management Committees are formed to strengthen documentation. The documentation is conducted with the help of Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) from key informants and knowledgeable persons of the cluster. Consolidation of Agro-biodiversity registers from 5 clusters of Malkangiri districts to make Panchayat level register is in progress. Five agro-biodiversity registers would be available at the end of the project.  Specimen copies of traditional crops are collected and preserved in the form of herbaria.

Practice based education – Farmer centric research in conducting participatory  Varietal Selection (PVT)

Participatory Varietal Trial (PVT) is an extension research tool to find out the best varieties from a pool of landraces for a small agro-ecological region. The learning process is simplified in which breeders, agronomists and farmers learn together which varieties perform well in on-farm and are preferred by farmers.

Visit to Agroecological centre made farmers aware of the huge diversity of crops that could be grown.

The trials are conducted to identify farmer’s preferred varieties of ragi for a micro-agro ecological climate, conduct joint experimentation on farmer’s field through involving farmers in various crop stages, laying out the design of Participatory Varietal Trial (RBD method) and finally preparing mechanisms for quickly and cost-effectively making them available for large scale multiplication.

  • In each block, planning meeting was conducted with farmers and OMM representatives and WASSAN staff in identifying local ragi varieties, selecting the plot and farmers, irrigation source, designing the layout.
  • Few local ragi varieties were collected from the block or districts along with and some local varieties collected by WASSAN from other districts to support the trial.
  • The PVT trial was designed in Randomized Block Design (RBD) in three replications with government recommended varieties as check.
  • The minimum plot size per variety per replication was 25sq.m.
  • Distance between replication to replication was kept 100cm and variety to variety in the replication was 60cm.
  • The farmers and grass root workers regularly visited the PVT plots and recorded the date of sowing, planting, weeding and flowering.
  • During maturity stage, farmers’ field day was organized.

Groups of farmers along with Community Resource Person, identified suitable varieties after discussion and put the coloured  tags. The Community Resource person collected information on the basis for their ranking as well as the characterisitcs they prefer.  Researcher collected the Agronomic data which included  visual and measurement characters of the varieties during vegetative stage with a prescribed format  from each replication and score it;

Data of selected varieties from farmers and researchers is compiled to come out with the best two varieties for the block and finally planning for seed production of those varieties in next year. Bati mandia, Ladu mandia, Sargi mandia, Bada mandia, Kalaganthi and Mami mandia were some of the selected varieties.

Dharmendra Khara of Dudumaguda village, G.P Gopinathpur Block, Korkunda, Dist in Malkangiri is a tribal farmer from Paroja ethnic group. He was the key informant on 5 traditional ragi varieties, two varieties of little millets, 5 varieties of pulses cultivated in his field. He has 3 acres of upland and 2 acres lowland of his own. He cultivated different types of traditional varieties of finger millet, little millet, sorghum, black gram, Red gram, horsegram, sesame, niger in his upland by following intercropping, mixed cropping, relay cropping and crop rotation. He has good experience on seed selection, rouging, traditional seed preservation techniques. Farmers from the same village and nearby villages came to buy seeds from him. He also created awareness on the importance of traditional seeds and why they need to be conserved.(Survey on “ Seed system for landraces” March 2022)

Exposure trips were organized for village communities to make them aware of different crops grown in the centre. Farmer groups from different districts visited the centre to gain practical knowledge on crop management, nutrient management, disease and pest management. The practical exposure was supplemented by class room teaching by experts from department of agriculture and WASSAN. The farmers were also supported with sample seed materials of preferred millet landraces for multiplication in their field. Implementing FFS for empowering farmers has not yet started, also the desirable residential facilities in the centre need to be operationalized in 2022-23.


The Odisha Millets Mission has been focusing on guiding farmers on resource conserving and agroecological perspectives. The Agro-ecological Centre is helping farming communities to gain knowledge, enabling collaborative work with mainstream agencies, as well as motivation for wider scaling up. The Agro-biodiversity register empowers farming communities in mainstreaming landraces to public domain as farmer’s varieties through suitable registration mechanisms under Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFRA).


ltieri, P. R., AGROECOLOGY – SCIENCE AND POLITICS (Agrarian change and peasant studies series),2017, North America: Fernwood Publisher, 32 Oceanvista Lane.

Brokenshaw, D.W., Warren, D.M.  and Werner, O., Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Development. 1980, Lanham, University Press of America.

Balam, D. Retrieved from , January 27 2021.

Susanta Sekhar Chaudhury, Biswa Sankar Das, Pulak Ranjan Nayak

Susanta Sekhar Chaudhury

Regional Coordinator, WASSAN,

Nilakantha Nagar, Nayapalli,

Bhubaneswar – 751012

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