Women-led farm enterprises: Unleashing the potential of humble millets

The revival of millets in Odisha has instilled a sense of confidence among women groups, helping them to beat poverty and malnutrition. Odisha Millets Mission and Mission Shakti department have been successfully promoting WSHG-led millet-based farm enterprises across Odisha, strengthening livelihood and improving household income.

Odisha is home to 62 Scheduled Tribes and 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups. The Scheduled Tribes of Odisha account for 22.85% of the total population of Odisha. For years, tribal communities have been sustaining their livelihood through subsistence rainfed farming mostly in the hilly terrain and mountain slopes where they cultivate traditional crops like millet, pulses, cereals, tubers, and roots under a mixed system of farming. Tribal women play a crucial role in supporting their household income where they assist their male counterparts in agricultural work like sowing, weeding, harvesting and processing the produce.

Traditionally, the highly nutritious millets formed a substantial part of the diets and cropping system in the tribal areas of Odisha. Millets are climate-resilient crops as they can withstand extreme climatic conditions and require less agro inputs and resources. It also attracts less pests. However, the traditional processing of millets is labour-intensive for tribal women as they spend hours sun drying, beating with sticks, winnowing, separating and collecting the clean grain. Additionally, millet grains differ in size, shape, and husk content, so it becomes difficult to ensure smooth processing.

Collaboration between government departments

In order to address these challenges, Odisha Millets Mission (OMM), a flagship programme launched by the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment, Government of Odisha, to revive millets has been supporting women-led millet enterprises. In collaboration with the Mission Shakti Department, women self-help groups (WSHGs) have played a critical role in establishing, leading, operating and managing over 2,000 enterprises like processing units, Millet Shakti Cafe, Millet Shakti Outlet, Millet Shakti Tiffin Centre, Take-Home Ration (THR), Bio-Input Centres, Custom Hiring Centres and Community Managed Seed Banks.

OMM is a unique programme because of its end-to-end value chain interventions and identification of scalable and innovative approaches,” said Arabinda Kumar Padhee, Principal Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment, Government of Odisha.  “OMM is also focusing on women’s empowerment through involving women-led self-help groups (WSHGs) and facilitating their active participation in the entire millet value chain with women being trained to take the leadership roles in processing, value addition, and marketing” the Principal Secretary highlighted. The mission was initiated in 30 blocks in 7 districts in 2017, which has been further extended to 177 blocks covering all 30 districts from 2023 onwards.

The Mission Shakti department has the objective of empowering women through gainful activities by providing credit and market linkage. Empowerment of women through WSHGs under Mission Shakti is a flagship programme of the Government of Odisha. It envisages that over a period of time, more and more women would be part of a WSHG. Nearly 70 lakh women have been organised into 6 lakh groups in all blocks and urban local bodies of the State so far.

Women-led farm enterprises

The partnership between the Odisha Millets Mission and the Mission Shakti Department has helped establish women-led farm enterprises for Self Help Groups (WSHGs) across the state. These enterprises include 7 WSHGs with 3-deck Ragi Cleaner-Grader-Destoner units (2-3 quintals per hour capacity), 14 WSHGs with 3-deck Ragi Cleaner-Grader-Destoner units (10-12 quintals per hour capacity), 35 WSHGs with 2-deck Ragi Cleaner-Grader-Destoner units, 20 WSHGs with Minor Millet Dehuller Units, 975 WSHGs with pulverizer units, 738 WSHGs with thresher units, 59 WSHGs with Take-Home-Ration units under the Integrated Child Development Services program, and 2 WSHG with an Integrated Minor Millet Cleaner-Grader-Destoner unit.

A few success stories are presented below.

Success Story 1

Sabari WSHG based in Doraguda village, Boipariguda block, Koraput district, is one of the 10 WSHGs in the Boipariguda block that received a Ragi thresher-cum-pearler, under the programme, to reduce the drudgery of tribal women farmers. Previously, these tribal women farmers primarily relied on traditional methods to thresh ragi, a laborious process that escalated processing expenses. These women used to spend approximately 5-6 hours daily manually drying and extracting ragi seeds, a process taking three to five days and incurring significant costs.

Since acquiring the ragi threshers, the WSHGs efficiently processed high-quality ragi. Sabari WSHG performed exceptionally well and earned a good income from the processing unit. Other women farmers bring their harvested ragi to process using the ragi thresher managed by Sabari WSHG, paying Rs.1 per kg of ragi to the group for their services. The WSHG earns an average income of Rs.10,000 per month during the harvesting season.

Chanchala Majhi, President of the Sabari WSHG said, “We also provide ragi threshers to millet farmers on a rental basis. We charge Rs.100 per quintal of ragi processing.” Typically, the threshers handle 3 to 4 quintals of ragi per day. Using the thresher, the time required for threshing is reduced to one day compared to the previous 5-6 days of intensive manual labour. “We target those farmers who use traditional techniques for threshing ragi to reduce their time, cost and labour,” said Bharati Taraputia, Secretary, Sabari WSHG. “The ragi thresher unit has enhanced income for both farmers and the women members of WSHG. This has strengthened their livelihood,” added Majhi.

Success story 2

Maa Santoshi WSHG from Mankadabeda village in Koraput district is managing a pulverizer machine (3 HP, single phase) to grind millet into flour.  Gouri Gunta, president of the WSHG said, “With the use of a pulverizer, it is very easy to convert ragi grain into fine flour. Thanks to OMM and Mission Shakti for training us and providing the machine.” Local farmers often visit the pulverizer unit to process their ragi.  The WSHG charges Rs.4 for grinding 1 kg ragi, per hour. The pulverizer can grind up to 15-20 kg ragi. Last year the WSHG earned around Rs.50,000 from the pulverizer unit.  “We equally distribute the income with our WSHG members,” Gunta said, while adding that, “more and more WSHGs in the locality are showing interest in setting up a pulverizer unit.”

Success story 3

Life has been challenging for Minte Kujur from Kutra Block in Sundargarh district. With agriculture as her primary source of income, providing affordable education for her children was difficult. In 2022, Minte Kujur and other members of Jyoti WSHG received a Pulverizer from the Odisha Millet Mission. After training from the resource person, three out of ten members operated the machine, charging Rs 5 per kg and generating a monthly income of around Rs. 7000. The Pulverizer not only ground Ragi but also lentils, turmeric, and wheat. This initiative marked a significant step towards self-sufficiency and demonstrated the tangible impact of external support on women’s empowerment through skill-building and resource provision. Following the implementation of OMM, WSHG members gained increased respect within their families and communities. Additionally, they achieved financial stability to afford quality education for their children in better schools, leading to improved opportunities for future generations.

Success story 4

Little millet is one of the traditional rainfed crops which used to be grown abundantly in the uplands of the Nuapada region. The shorter duration variety used is widely considered as a cash crop, in addition to being part of the traditional food basket. However, using the traditional method of manual little millet dehulling, it takes around 2 hours of labour to dehull 1 kg of grain.

A household level little millet dehulling mixie was developed through participatory machinery development approach to reduce the drudgery of women in little millet dehulling in remote areas. The pilot initiative in Nuapada district generated significant interest in women folk, demonstrating the potential of the low-cost technology to revive little millet production and consumption across the State.

OMM piloted a little millet dehulling mixie which could process about 4 kg of little millet in an hour, including destoning, sieving, and allowing the machine to cool down between uses. Regular mixies currently available at a mass-scale were modified to develop this machine. This not only kept the technology low-cost under Rs 5000, but it also already had well-developed features for ease of use. The dehuller can be operated with single-phase electricity and doesn’t require any additional infrastructure.

Success factors

The successful women-led farm enterprises have thrived under the collaboration between the Odisha Millets Mission and Mission Shakti due to several contributing factors. First is the comprehensive capacity building of WSHG members. The mission has focused on building the capacities of women farmers through training programmes, workshops, and exposure visits. This has enhanced their knowledge and skills in millet cultivation, processing, and marketing.

Under the mission, processing machinery has been provided to WSHGs to run their enterprises. And the third one is the supportive policies of the state government which prioritise women’s participation and empowerment in the agricultural sector. All this has created an enabling environment for women-led farm enterprises to grow. These conditions, along with the determination and entrepreneurial spirit of the women farmers, have contributed to the success of these enterprises.


These women-led enterprises are leading their communities to include and promote millets, ensuring their nutritional and livelihood security while also providing an impetus to revive the millet economy. With the scaling up of the OMM programme, there will be a need for more such enterprises. There will be the expansion of the mission which will include more women farmers and WSHGs, replicating this in other regions of Odisha. This will broaden the reach and impact of the mission, contributing to poverty reduction and women’s empowerment on a larger scale.

WSHGs are playing a crucial role in driving the millet value chain, from farm to fork. The revival of millets in Odisha has instilled a sense of confidence among women groups, helping them to beat poverty and malnutrition. The OMM model has supported WSHGs to set up millet-based enterprises, which can become a comprehensive solution in addressing malnutrition, unemployment, and motivating farmers to increase their millet cultivation area.

Abhijit Mohanty

Programme Manager-Knowledge Building,



E-mail : abhijitmohanty10@yahoo.com


Bhesaja Choudhury

Media and Communication Coordinator,



E-mail : bhesaja@gmail.com


Trinath Taraputia

Regional Coordinator,



E-mail : trinath.b2793@gmail.com

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