Women who feed us!

This women’s day we want to carve out time to thank our women farmers and farmworkers. Our women farmers are our joy, they remind us to be grateful for the food that comes to our plates, revive our seeds and process our grains. Our organic farmers do it all without chemicals, naturally & sustainably. While tracking the story of paddy cultivation in our series on “Passion for Paddy”, I realised that at every step women are the major contributors to growing our rice. The images stored in my system that we clicked in paddy farms, in the mills, in the drying yards, and finally in Bio Basics showed the work of wonderful women who bring organically grown, naturally processed, naturally transported, stored and cleaned rice to our plates.

Traditionally women farmed, they saved seeds, they harvested and kept aside the best for seed next season. They were our food providers in more than one sense-They were our seed keepers and cultivators. This was when farming was agri-culture. When that shifted to agri-business, large machines replaced human effort. I am not against technology, we definitely need technology, but what we need is intermediate technology, machines that women can use, machines that can be used on small parcels of land and machines that can work without compacting and destroying the structure of the soil and allows for processing the grains without denaturing the food. Small farms, local, sustainable, practising organic farming methods, run by families are by far the biggest contributors to food security, sovereignty and safety. These farms have Susheela, Khadeeja, Suma, Usha, Nandini, Radha, Anita, Pappamma, and scores of women who toil in the sun, work long hours, undertake the arduous physical effort to grow our food.

Even in processing our food women are at the forefront. I was impressed with the women in the rice mill where many of the organic rices are processed, the women lifting bags of paddy effortlessly using two hooks, heaving the paddy from the steamer into wheelbarrows to spread to dry. They operated the machines and cleaned the rice and bagged them. As Sivadasan chettan and his wife Asha said, “the women manage this mill, without them we can’t keep it going”.

The greens in Nandini’s farms are harvested by Kuppamma, slim, wiry, aged but agile, working alongside Nandini- they bring the greens to our plates. The rice mill is operated by Nisha who does everything including running the rice hullers and a whole host of women including Karthiyayini and Asha who is there from morning to evening managing the show, checking if the parboiled rice is dry enough. Rukmini, whose husband Kannan manages the large paddy farm from where our Uma rice comes, she along with a whole bunch of women is the force that keeps the operation going including managing over 20 cows and also continuing with the season’s parboiling when Kannan had to be hospitalised during that period. The women in the Wayand farms from where our speciality rice come- growing rice, making music while farming, these women of the hills are enthusiastically joining the journey of seed revival. We have named a few- but there are countless women who make Bio Basics what it is.

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