Kutenpadar, a nondescript village in Odisha’s Kalahandi district, once infamous for starvation deaths and hunger in the 80s, is now a model village and the face of transformation as well as of women empowerment.
The people used to mostly depend on forest products to eke out their living. But things have changed now, thanks to a 45-year-old tribal woman, Banadei Majhi, who is also referred to as the "Mushroom Maa" (mushroom mother) in the district.
The determination and willpower to change the economic status of her family has now sparked a movement in the entire village. This happened when Banadei started mushroom cultivation from paddy straw after receiving training at a NABARD camp in 2007-08.
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Banadei’s family comprises her husband and four children. She hails from a poor family, which received two acres of government land in the past, fit only to grow millets on.
After getting basic training and engaging in trial cultivation for two years, Banadei started mushroom cultivation on her own and soon became a role model. "I earn a net profit of more than one lakh rupees during the period from June to October through mushroom cultivation,” she said.
She also earns about ₹50,000 to ₹60,000 from vegetable cultivation, pulses and oilseeds for consumption of the family from the piece of land which was once lying fallow.
In the year 2010, she purchased a goat for ₹500 and now the family has 45 of them. Her husband, Jagabandhu, and daughter, Jagynseni, help her in the daily chores. One of her daughters got married two years ago and two sons are pursuing a college degree. Banadei is now constructing a new pucca house and her husband has also purchased a motorbike for marketing of the products.
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Encouraged by Banadei's financial condition, 50 other households in the village have now started mushroom cultivation and are earning about ₹50,000 a year, in addition to the income from vegetable cultivation.
Banadei has now become a master trainer for women from 10 neighbouring villages. In 2010, she was awarded by NABARD for her contribution to the field of mushroom cultivation and women empowerment.
"She is the real model of women empowerment. She is a success story of commitment and dedication of a tribal lady," said the District Development Manager of NABARD, Malaya Kumar Meher. Banadei feels that mushroom and vegetable cultivation has changed her life and that of the villagers as well.
Kutenpdar village, located 10 kilometres from the district headquarters of Bhawanipatna, has 55 households, with a dominant tribal population.
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A decade ago, the condition of the village was miserable. The entire village was dependent on sales of wood collected from the forests in Bhawanipatna town and income from millets and pulses cultivation.
"Two meals a day was a treat for us. However, things have changed substantially after the intervention of the watershed programme supported by NABARD," she said.
Now 50 households out of 55 have adopted mushroom cultivation, and all the households are cultivating vegetables on a commercial basis, thus earning a profit between ₹1 lakh to ₹1.5 lakh per family from both. Recently NABARD has declared the village as Mushroom village.
The economic condition has improved and this once obscure small poor village now has 35 bikes. The lifestyle of villagers has improved and there is now zeal to educate their children. Raju Majhi, a villager, said: "We learnt the tricks of mushroom cultivation from Banadei and are now reaping profit."