Zaheerabad mandal in APs Medak district is largely an unirrigated rainfed area with red laterite soil. A few patches of black soil are used for growing cotton, potato, sugarcane, where groundwater is available. Yet, villages around Zaheerabad look green as farmers have cultivated the wasteland distributed to them by the state government. Most of this wasteland has been used for growing different varieties of local millets, suited for dryland cultivation.
We have been able to use the wastelands for our food and fodder, said a dalit woman farmer, Sattamma.
Helping the farmers in marketing their produce and getting remunerative prices is a coalition of 10 non-government organisations and farmers, the Andhra Pradesh Food Sovereignty Network (AFSN), which has set up community-owned grain and seed banks that sell seeds to farmers and distribute grains to the poor. We have been able to create an alternative model for community-owned grain bank and public distribution system, said PV Satheesh of Deccan Development Society, a part of this initiative. He wanted the government to adequately hike the minimum support prices for coarse cereals to encourage its cultivation across the country.
The average yield of jowar (sorghum) in this dryland region is 400 kg per acre, that of red gram (pigeon pea) done with inter-cropping with sorghum is 150 kg per acre. The stalks of sorghum are used as fodder, while pigeonpea stalks are used as fuel wood or sold to sugarcane crushers.
While sorghum millet is largely consumed by people in this dryland area as a staple food, other millet crops like sajja (pearl millet), korra (foxtail millet) and pulses green gram (moong) and black gram are also grown in inter-cropping with an average yield of 60 kg per acre The self-help groups of dalit women, called sangams, are the cornerstone of success, says Easwaribai, another farmer. She says, Everything is managed at the community level. The proceeds are ploughed back to the community fund.