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Quietly blazing trails – the Women Rice Bankers of Muzaffarpur!

Sumitra Devi and Manju Devi are women farmers with a difference. They are raising rice nurseries that are part of paddy sapling bank, locally known as Dhan Bichra Bank. It is an innovative initiative by women farmers that has become a source of their livelihood and brought a change in their lives.

Sumitra and Manju were ordinary housewives till three years ago. They used to work in the fields occasionally without any recognition, but now are running and managing the paddy sapling bank. They are selling rice saplings from their nurseries to small and marginal farmers and earning a decent livelihood.

They are not alone. There are hundreds of such women farmers who are engaged in raising paddy nurseries and selling saplings in dozen of villages in Muzaffarpur district. These women use system of root intensification, popularly known as the SRI method, a scientific technique to cultivate paddy saplings on time, to sell for transplantation that helps farmers, who get readymade paddy saplings without any risk.

In a different light

Such an initiative by women farmers shows Muzaffarpur in a different light in an inspiring tale of empowerment and a complete counterpoint to the downtrodden status of homeless women in different parts of the country.

The SRI method of rice cultivation has been successfully practiced by thousands of farmers to boost yields. “In the first year, I earned Rs 2,900 in 2015 by selling saplings to farmers after we started paddy sapling bank,” Sumitra, a resident of Harpur panchayat under Bandara administrative block, said. “It motivated other women, who joined me and started raising paddy nurseries in their small patches of land. Now, there are hundreds of women associated with paddy sapling bank in Muzaffarpur.”

She was the first woman in her village to stand on her feet and is known as a model woman farmer who is leading a group that manages the paddy sapling bank. Sumitra said her success as woman farmer encouraged and inspired other women in the village to start paddy nurseries of different sizes as per availability of land. “Paddy sapling bank was started by me in 2015. Initially, a handful of women joined me, but now their number increased in view of the benefits.”

Manju, a resident of Chak Ibrahim village under Saraiya administrative block, said they opted to raise paddy nursery as it helped them in paddy cultivation. “By doing this, we have made our new identity and are also making some money,” she said.

Unlike Manju, Rekha Devi of Amaitha village and Meneka Devi of Biseshar Patti village in Sarayia block have been raising paddy nurseries for selling only. “This time I have raised a paddy nursery in 4 katha of land and sold saplings of nearly 3 katha,” says Manju. Similarly, Meneka, who raised a nursery in 3 katha of land, sold saplings of over 2 katha. “I will earn more than expected because demand of paddy saplings for transplantation is high,” she said.

Improved status

These women farmers’ exposure to outside of the four walls of their homes has improved their status at the community level. They have increased self-confidence by being recognized as a contributing farmer. “At last, our contribution to agriculture is accepted and recognized, thanks to paddy sapling nurseries,” Rekha said.

According to the women, with the successful paddy sapling bank, they have also started raising vegetables nurseries, which are also in high demand. Traditionally, raising paddy nurseries have been viewed as a male-dominated sector in agriculture. But women farmers have changed it in Muzaffarpur.

Raising a paddy nursery during monsoon is common in rural areas prior to the start of much awaited Kharif season. But this year, farmers have been facing a difficult task in view of poor rainfall. Some of them are using diesel pumps, others electric bore wells and there are farmers working hard by irrigating their nurseries manually with help of hand pumps or wells.

Chunnu Kumar, a skill extension worker of Jeevika in Saraiya block, said more than 800 women farmers in different groups are associated with the paddy sapling bank. “In our block, these women farmers are doing well by preparing paddy seedlings and selling to co-villagers,” he said.

This features is taken from an article written by Mohd Imran Khan, and published in VillageSquare.in. To read the entire feature, click here. Photos by the author.

Mohd Imran Khan is a Patna-based journalist. The views expressed in this feature are his own. 

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