The origin of farming as a livelihood initiative for women can be traced back to a neighbourhood group meeting in Asamannur Gram Panchayat in year 2000. The meeting was incidentally held aside the Periyar Valley irrigation canal, where large stretches of paddy land were lying fallow.
The meeting took note of the irony of the context and discussed the desire expressed by a few women to cultivate paddy. The idea was that if they could cultivate paddy for a season, they could produce enough rice to meet the household needs for six months a year.
The problem was that these poor NHG members did not possess any land. The discussion went on to exploring the possibility of getting some land from the land owners and cultivating. The Panchayat supported them; the women took the land on informal lease from the land owner.
“Their endeavour was so successful that these women bought 40 cents of land from the money they made out of collective farming”, remembers T.K. Jose, former executive director of Kudumbashree, referring to the collective farming initiative in Asamannur.
“Seeing the success of these women, Kudumbashree had a detailed discussion in the programme review meeting. It was decided to promote collective farming in 1000 acres per district in the following season. It was also decided to promote crops and vegetables with good demand in the market”.
Presence of officers of the department of agriculture of the State government in the Kudumbashree team came handy for collective farming. The mission introduced two types of incentives for promoting collective farming - Area Incentive and Production Incentive.
Convergence of various schemes were utilised for supporting collective farming from the early days. For instance, Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India was utilised in Wayanad and Palakkad districts. In later stages, the programme benefited from convergence with MGNREGS and MKSP (Mahila Kissan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana).
“MGNREGS proved to be a God-sent for collective farming”, said Sarada Muraleedharan, former executive director, Kudumbashree. “There were no takers for a convergence between MGNREGS and collective farming. It took enormous efforts over two years. But when it clicked, it took collective farming to a totally different level”.
The focus of the State’s tenth five year plan (2007-2012) was on agricultural production, local economic development, poverty eradication, and social equity. Kudumbashree mission saw this as an opportunity to promote collective farming and micro enterprises based on farm produce.
CDS members were part of the working groups in most of the Panchayats. This was a space to contribute to and also influence the Panchayat plans.
Kudumbashree mission organised a couple of regional workshops for elected representatives of Panchayats and CDS Chairpersons. The purpose of the workshop was to explore the possibility of local economic development through agricultural interventions.
The mission had to stop this initiative midway for two reasons.
- Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), the State government’s agency for capacity building of local government institutions saw it as an infringement into its area of work.
- The State government wanted Kudumbashree to take up a survey for validating the data generated by the below-poverty-line survey.
In spite of this set back, the mission went ahead with orientation programme for its community network on collective farming using the new opportunity. This had contributed to many Panchayats coming up with ‘zero fallow land’ programmes.