Access to quality seeds by smallholder farmers has always been a constraint to varietal diffusion. It takes significant time to produce and distribute seeds of new varieties evaluated through the existing network. As a part of the seed system strengthening initiative in Bargarh, the Durgeswari Self-Help Group (SHG) in Odagaon Village, in the district of Bargarh, Odisha was trained in quality seed production, seed certification and regulatory compliance, and seed marketing. This case study highlights the journey of SHG’s participation from varietal trials to seed production and the promotion of direct-seeded rice.
The district of Bargarh is popularly known as the rice bowl of Odisha as it is one of the largest rice suppliers in the state, with an annual production of around 6,00,000 metric tons. However, farmers in the district must transition to sustainable food production by embracing new agricultural technologies and rice varieties to meet the growing demand.
Although the seed replacement rate in Bargarh is higher than the state’s average, there is a glaring gap in the market demand for and the supply of rice varieties and seeds. Some of the older but widely grown rice varieties in the district—such as Jamuna, MTU 1010, and MTU 1001—need to be replaced with newer varieties with higher yield and head rice recovery and suitable maturity duration.
New solutions to traditional problems
The access to quality seeds by smallholder farmers has always been a constraint to varietal diffusion. It takes significant time to produce and distribute seeds of new varieties evaluated through the existing network.
In such cases, community collectivization has emerged as a good practice, particularly in women farmers. The collectivized farmers, when appropriately oriented and trained, can minimize the seed access problem at the community level.
The other significant challenges in rice farming in eastern India are the higher cost of production, labor shortage, and greenhouse gas emissions. Direct-seeded rice (DSR) is highly recommended as a sustainable option.
However, the acceptance of this method is slow owing to several reasons that need agronomic solutions including rice varieties suited for this cultivation method. The farming community needs ready and timely access to machines, quality seeds of suitable varieties, and knowledge for the implementation and promotion of DSR.
Women as transformative leaders
As a part of the seed system strengthening initiative in Bargarh, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) identified a highly motivated Self-Help Group (SHG) in Odagaon Village called the Durgeswari SHG. This case study highlights the journey of the Durgeswari SHG’s participation from varietal trials to seed production and the promotion of DSR.
Durgeswari SHG was established in 2019 by ten small or marginal women farmers to meet loan requirements. In 2020, the members of Durgeswari SHG, now numbering 12, led the crop cafeteria varietal evaluation in their village. It included 18 short and medium-duration varieties like MTU-1156, MTU-1153, BRRI-69, Swarna Sherya, Swarna Shakti, Ankit, BINA dhan-17, BINA dhan-11, BRRI-69 with MTU-1010 as the check variety.
A field day was organized at the maturity stage for local rice farmers, dealers, millers, and agriculture extension officials. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the event attracted a good number of participants. It helped generate awareness of the performance and traits of the rice varieties and facilitated a participatory evaluation process.
The farmers, dealers, and millers identified BRRI dhan-69 as the best variety suited to their needs because of the following traits:
- Short bold grain
- Bumper yield capacity (5.5 tons/ha)
- High head rice recovery (estimated by millers at 66%)
- Quick and high germination rate
Developed by IRRI and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), these traits of BRRI dhan-69 fit the market demand. IRRI, in close association with government officials and farmers, evaluated and recommended BRRI dhan-69 in the region.
IRRI leveraged the Seeds Without Borders initiative to release the variety in India a few years ago. However, it took time to reach farmers because of the lack of seeds.
Equipping women with empowering knowledge
After the community selected BRRI dhan-69 for scaling, IRRI organized season-long training for members of the Durgeswari SHG to support the production and marketing of the seeds. The training included quality seed production, seed certification and regulatory compliance, and seed marketing.
Typically, seed production in the region is focused on varieties for transplanted rice cultivation. IRRI trained the group on DSR methods and provided seed drills for mechanized DSR. Durgeswari SHG used the DSR method and machine to cultivate BRRI dhan-69 on 2 hectares of land for grain production.
IRRI also arranged an exposure visit of the members to the Western Odisha Agricultural Fair in Sambalpur District to develop awareness and knowledge of mechanization and marketing channels.
Further, IRRI’s Seed System & Product Management Unit (SSPM) provided the group with a multi-crop seed drill based on the priority of the group and trained them on its usage and handling.
The members used it to reduce the drudgery of agricultural operations, avoid the issues of labor shortage during peak periods, and rent it to local farmers for USD 12.00 per hectare. The proceeds from the machine rental were set aside for future use.
Seed scaling and varietal dissemination through entrepreneurship
During the 2023 kharif, IRRI provided the Durgeswari SHG with 110 kgs of foundation seeds of BRRI dhan-69 for seed production. IRRI SSPM oversaw the activity through periodic field visits and monitoring during different crop growth stages until maturity.
The members harvested 9 tons of produce which, after processing, will give about 6 tons of seeds. These seeds will be sold at the current market price of USD 600.00 per ton for a total of USD 3,600.00. Durgeswari SHG also identified reliable marketing channels for the sale of the BRRI dhan-69 seeds. They have already received pre-harvest orders from neighboring farmers.
The seed production initiative not only helped the women’s collective earn a decent revenue but also expanded the seed availability of a market-demanded variety. This, in turn, will trigger the adoption and diffusion of the variety.
The Durgeswari SHG cultivated 10 hectares of paddy under the DSR method in the 2023 wet season using the multi-crop seed drill. The members now aim to increase the area of seed production depending on the demand. Seeing the benefits of DSR, this group also advocates for the large-scale adoption of DSR as cost-effective and climate-resilient rice farming.
They also hope to operate a rental business for agricultural machinery in the village to meet the immediate needs of the village farmers for a tractor, mechanical weeders, and power sprayers.
Recognizing the group’s interest, enthusiasm, and collectivism in seed production, the Chief District Agriculture Officer Amiya Sahu is closely monitoring the progress. He pledged to support the group with Custom Hiring Center (CHC) which would enable the Durgeswari SHG to put up an agricultural machine enterprise with financial support from the government.
The group will manage and run the enterprise where other farmers can rent machines. In the process, the SHG will earn revenue while promoting farm mechanization, especially for smallholders.
“Training on soil testing and advanced direct-seeded rice is also planned for this group,” Dr.Sahu said.
A blueprint for women’s empowerment
Durgeswari SHG is an example of how developmental organizations working with dedicated SHGs can bring significant changes in agricultural practices, livelihood, and the social fabric of rural India.
Empowered with knowledge and information on different means for increasing their income, the members of the Durgeswari SHG are confident of its prospects. It serves as a model for the synergy of technology and community participation.