Permafund grant helps reintroduce an ancient grain to tribal villages in India

Through its annual grant process, Permaculture Australia’s Permafund is supporting tribal women in Orissa, India to learn to grow millet, an ancient grain that was once a staple crop.

Millet fell out of favour with Indian farmers around four decades ago when they switched to more aspirational crops such as rice.

In 2015-16 Permafund awarded a micro-grant to THREAD, Siddharth Village, Orissa to train local tribal women in the cultivation of a range of rare millet varieties. The project was initially centred on a one-acre plot of land with water facilities run via a solar pump, also financed by Permafund.

Ploughing the field

Tribal woman and the maturing crop

Now, in a country which is facing dramatic water shortages, the many varieties of millet are again being recognised as a more sustainable crop given its reliance on rainwater rather than heavy irrigation.

The women learned harvest techniques, seed conservation and food preparation using the grains.

Harvesting the grain

The aim of the millet project is two-fold: - to preserve and increase the supply of around eight varieties of millet facing extinction, and to highlight the importance and advantages of cultivating millet to diversify diet, instead of just rice.

Following a stocktake of the harvest’s yields, the millet varieties were distributed to various tribal women’s organisations to improve nutrition and increase food security in their villages.

Dividing the varieties of seed to share with tribal villages in the region

THREAD (Team for Human Resource Education & Action for Development) reports good success with the project, although heavy rain did impact some varieties. Overall, each 500 grams of millet seed planted during the project yielded several kilograms of seeds at harvest. In some instances the harvest was even better, with yields as much as 30 kg.

The benefits from this project are set to continue with plans to cultivate other plots to increase the supply of the rare seeds for further distribution throughout the region and beyond via an ongoing exchange and education process.

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