UTTARAKHAND: Rekha Devi had no idea that the red rice produced in her lush green fields in the Saryu river valley in Uttarakhand’s Bageshwar can fetch over Rs 100 per kilogram. What she thought was a neglected routine crop has now become a ‘Superfood’ with rising demand from across the country along with hundreds of other products grown, processed, packaged by women farmers across 850 Van Panchayats of the hill state.
This was made possible by the ‘HavePure NATURALLY YOURS’ initiative implemented by the state forest department under the Uttarakhand Forest Resource Management Project (UFRMP). “The project is aimed at helping women farmers, empowering them and making them self-reliant. The initiative is also focused on promoting native species of grains, pulses, cereals, millets and other natural produce native to the hills of Uttarakhand for the betterment of society.
Many of these products are of high dietary value with countless benefits,” says Neethu Lakshmi M, deputy project director. The initiative, backed by the Government of Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, supports these women by creating irrigation facilities, value addition and marketing of their products. The project is providing all-encompassing and integral support to 1,500 Self Help Groups (SHGs) involving about 15,000 women presently.
In many cases, these women farmers get 5-10% more value than the government’s minimum support price of a particular grain, cereal, or millet. “I never knew that I will be doing something this good in my life. Now, I know almost everything about farming with proper technique. It almost feels like my rebirth,” says Sushila Devi from Kokliyal Gaon Van Panchayat.
The initiative also encompasses a brand name ‘My Re-fill Store’ which has both online and offline presence (including Dilli Haat) selling traditionally farmed products. The initiative which started with 26 products is expending with new additions every season. Some of the high-demand products include Saryu red rice, Munsiyari Rajma, yellow chilli powder, bhang, jeera jakhya, Mandwa flour, Jhangura rice, handchurned ghee, walnuts, Kala Bhatt or Black Soyabean, multi-flora honey, Harad, Amla and Baheda powders. SM Joshi, the project director, said, “We basically focus on traditional methods of farming, native produce and crops with high nutritional and medicinal value.
We provide technical help, co-ordination in terms of training, production, post-harvest help, processing and marketing. The results are promising and it will take more time to bear sweeter fruits.” The project, conceived in 2013-14, encompasses two aspects- the first is the eco-restoration of degraded forests. The second aspect focusing on the livelihood component, under which ‘HavePure’ was conceived, was launched in December 2018.
The officials, elaborating the livelihood component said that this helps in multiple ways to reduce pressure on forests by making people reliant on agriculture and allied fields including farming, dairy, apiculture and various other activities. Mayank Arya, who has used the products, said, “I have used their products from Dilli Haat and in Uttrakhand too. I can vouch for good quality and benefits. Also, it is delightful to see our women so empowered.”
Products in high demand
Some of the products in high demand are Saryu red rice, Munsiyari Rajma, yellow chilli powder, garam, bhang, jeera jakhya, Mandwa flour, Jhangura rice, hand-churned ghee from Badri cow, walnuts from Ladhiya valley, Kala Bhatt or Black Soyabean, multiflora honey, Harad, Amla and Baheda powders