Global Agriculture

Indian Women Farmers Thrive On Zinc-Biofortified Wheat And Help Local Economy

02 March 2021, Bihar: Kalawati Devi, 50, is an enterprising farmer of biofortified zinc wheat living in Khudusri Kothia village, Patna district, Bihar. Kalawati is not new to farming—she started helping her family at the farm at a very young age and continues to nurture her own fields today.  She has been cultivating biofortified zinc varieties, BHU-25 & BHU-31, in her 1.5 bigha plot (about 3762 square meters) for over 3 years now. 

“Farming is our main source of nutrition and livelihood. It helps me stay independent, healthy, and active. We grow everything on our farm and buy only what we can’t grow from the market. Consuming zinc wheat has been beneficial. Our children are healthy and the rotis (flatbreads) are very soft,” Kalawati explained.

Kalawati’s day starts early. She visits the farm every morning followed by a customary visit to the bank around 9:30 am, to deposit the returns from vegetable sales from her farm. In addition to zinc wheat, she also grows vegetables such as eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, green spinach, red spinach, and amaranth leaves. She also grows rice during the paddy season.

Two buffaloes and one cow in the backyard take care of Kalawati’s family dairy requirements every morning, allowing her to sell about 16 liters of fresh milk every evening to the local milk cooperative and earn extra income. The livestock feed also comes from their farm. Her idea of running a farm is to grow everything they need, and eat everything grown local and fresh, to fulfill her family’s food requirements by staying within their means. Their livestock is fed with wheat straw, obtained after the wheat harvests.

“We separate the wheat grain by threshing the crop in the threshing machines which yields straw pieces of 1-3 centimeters in length. This straw is called bhusa. We offer this bhusa to our livestock in combination with other feeds, depending on the availability. It helps our cattle stay full and healthy,” she said.

In addition to managing the family’s health and nutritional needs, she also shoulders the financial responsibility of her home. Kalawati personally supervises all farm sales and harvests, every day and in every season. In the last season, she planted 60 kilograms (kg) of seed and harvested about 20 quintals (2000 kg).

“We’ve been able to harvest about 20 quintals of zinc wheat in the last season. We save half the produce for consumption, planting in the next season, and the rest is sold. Regular wheat varieties only fetch about INR 1500-1600 (about USD 20) per quintal in the market. We were able to sell zinc wheat at a price of INR 2000 (about USD 27) per quintal, last season. I use this extra money for paying the school fees of my six grandchildren and invest the rest for any health emergencies in the future. If I save enough, I wish to buy a tractor for my farm someday,” she said.  

Consumption of biofortified zinc wheat is a cost-effective and sustainable solution to combat zinc deficiency and prevent morbidity. Zinc wheat is currently grown by about 70,000 farmers in Bihar and 442,000 farming households across India, with an estimated 2.1 million household members benefiting. 

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As a woman, farming has allowed Kalawati to become self-reliant and independent, while shouldering family responsibilities. At least 10 new farmers in her village and 50 new farmers collectively from Naubatpur block, Bihta block, and Danapur block have taken up cultivation of biofortified zinc wheat this year after seeing harvests and returns on biofortified zinc wheat. She wishes that every crop she grows in her field is biofortified, including rice and vegetables, for better health and increased returns.