Thiruvananthapuram: In view of wide concerns over threats posed by pesticide-ridden vegetables, Kerala's all-women network Kudumbashree has decided to expand organic farming extensively across the state and enhance participation of women in the state's agrarian sector.
The 40 lakh-strong member outfit, which has successfully tried its hand in various fields, ranging from pickle making to IT business, has been in the field of agriculture since 2004.
The main objective of the project is to make Kerala free of pesticide-ridden vegetables, which mainly arrive from neighbouring states and support the government's initiatives to achieve self-reliance in production and procurement of agricultural products.
The two-day anniversary conference of the outfit, which began in Malappuram district today, will chalk out more plans in this regard.
The outfit's initiatives to woo more women to farming is significant as men are largely moving out of agriculture and big farmers transform their cultivation from food crops to cash crops which are more remunerative, they said.
Kudumbashree Executive Director K B Valsala Kumari said Kerala is highly food deficit and women can play a crucial role in bringing the glory of agriculture back in the state.
"We are trying to propagate the message of food security and food self sufficiency at the grassroot level of society. To achieve the target, more women should foray into agriculture," she told PTI.
Kudumbashree volunteers are already cultivating all major food crops, including rice, vegetables and fruits in select areas through over its 60,000 Joint Liability Groups (JLG).
As part of expansion plans, Farmers' Facilitation Centres (FFC) have been formed in 978 panchayats which act as knowledge and service delivery points in rural areas,she said.
"FFCs act as local knowledge dissemination centres, for agriculture and allied activities. Training manuals, publication, agriculture magazines are made available at each FFC for better and efficient knowledge dissemination," she said.
A 'master farmer programme' has also been rolled out to impart expert training among women farmers, Kumari said.
"Under the programme, more than 10,000 experienced women farmers have been roped in from each panchayat after screening and trained as Master Farmers. They act as resource persons and help our volunteers," she said.
A handful of measures, including seed banking and soil testing facility have been launched and credit flow has been ensured by linking the JLGs with the bank by Kudumbashree to promote agriculture.
Marketing facilities have also been provided through the creation of weekly and monthly markets through Community Development Societies (CDSs).
She said no chemical pesticide or fertiliser is used in their farms.
"As we decided to expand organic farming, intense measures will be taken up to make reach the message among all of our members," Valsala Kumari said.
She said availability of land is one of the major problems faced by Kudumabshree in the agriculture sector.
"Availability of suitable land is a major concern as we depend mainly on lease land for their cultivation. Majority of members are either landless or have only meagre area," she said.
Land owners usually offer their land for a short period which in turn sustains a heavy loss for the group, she said.
"We believe that agriculture supporting intervention should be present in all spheres of activity related to farming and should create a better ecosystem for enhancing the returns from the sector," the official added.
Kudumbashree had been launched as the poverty eradication mission of the state government in 1998 to wipe out poverty through community action under the leadership of Local Self Governments.