Revival of old practice comes handy in times of drought

Published on OneWorld South Asia (first on Down to Earth), by Aparna Palla, November 18, 2009.

By reviving an old farm practice of pata, women in this western Indian district are ensuring food security in times of drought by growing vegetables, fruits, sorghum and pigeon peas. Traditionally, pata signifies a woman’s space in agriculture, which had lost its significance after Green Revolution and commercialisation.

Whenever I went missing as a child, my mother would come looking for me in the pata, Lalitabai Meshram said, laughing out loud. “My friends and I would play in the tangled vines for hours, making dolls of corn husk and hair, eating groundnuts, beans and waluk melon. Sometimes I would fall asleep there,” recalled Meshram, now 50-plus.  

Last year, after about four decades, she carved out a pata from the family’s four-acre (1.6 hectares) farm in Mendhla village in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district. It is like an oasis in the middle of large cotton and soybean farms …

… Following the initial success, Tulsiwar distributed 4,000 packets of mixed seeds in 180 villages in July for the kharif season; about 8,000 patas have been sown across the district. Scanty rainfall early in the season though did some damage to the legume crops, but the women harvested good quantities of vegetables; sorghum, corn and sesame crops also did well.

Following the initial success, Tulsiwar distributed 4,000 packets of mixed seeds in 180 villages in July for the kharif season; about 8,000 patas have been sown across the district. Scanty rainfall early in the season though did some damage to the legume crops, but the women harvested good quantities of vegetables; sorghum, corn and sesame crops also did well.

Those who had created patas last year have expanded them this year. Satibai, for instance, planted three patas this year, with full support from her husband. He was apprehensive during the trial run.

“It feels good,” he said: “There is shade in the farm and enough vegetables to eat. My daughter and her friends go to the pata these days to play. It is a happy thing.” (full text).

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