Kurokala village in Mahuadanr Block, Latehar district is a remote village with Santhal communities residing there. They are all small and marginal farmers who grow rice for one season and practice horticulture farming as well. The rice grown by these farmers are Black Jeera Rice and normal varieties of rice which they consume and sell. 300 households cultivate paddy in this cluster of Mahuadanr block with each household producing about 15-20 bags of paddy (10 quintiles) per season. They keep enough paddy aside for self consumption and sell the rest. Life Education and Development Support (LEADS) is an organization based in Jharkhand that works in the districts of Khunti, Hazaribagh, Laterhar, Ghumla etc to promote livelihoods of communities. They also work in urban areas with their base located in Ranchi. Within the livelihoods work, they focus on agriculture and natural resource promotion, animal husbandry for sustainable livelihoods and more. They have members grouped in SHGs across the districts, some of which are driven by women participation and leadership. In Latehar and Ghumla districts alone, they have 1600 members who practice rice cultivation. These farmers live in very remote forested regions and are predominantly belonging to tribal communities.
Kisan Mahila Mandal is a women based SHG with 20 members who decided to take up the decentralized solar powered rice mill intervention as they observed the need for hulling of rice and polishing there. The nearest rice mill is in a town about 10 km away which is centralized in nature. A small building infrastructure was set up with the help of the Jharkhand Livelihood Mission and the equipment, energy components were provided by SELCO Foundation in May, 2019. Multiple training sessions were conducted by SELCO Foundation staff for the women members. The women operate the machines, handle packaging, accounts, registers, maintenance etc.
The lockdown has also had repercussions in Latehar district with establishments having to close down. This includes the oil mill, flour mill and the rice mill which people from the town and villages nearby would access. With this access being cut off, villagers from nearby villages of 5-6 kilometer radius started to come to the SHG run solar powered mill as they heard of it from the middlemen. The SHG started to mill and polish the produce charging town folk INR 5 per kg and FPO members INR 2 per kg, as opposed to the usual rate of INR 3 per kg. The mill has been running for an additional 3 hours per day milling 150 kg of paddy to rice per day. Due to this, the SHG has been making profits even during the lockdown. People accessing this mill have been expressing that they prefer this as they have reduced time and expenses as the centralized mill in town would charge them INR 2 per kg but would not return the husk. Whereas, the SHG members have been returning the husk to the customers along with their hulled rice.
The husk has many uses for the farmers in the form of mixing it with manure to make biofuel, using it as fuel to keep the pots going which they use to make alcohol and laying poultry farms with this base to revoke ammonia. This husk is usually sold for INR 50-70 per bag for fuel used to make alcohol and INR 30-40 for the poultry shed with each bag weighing 20 kg. The decentralized rice mill generates 60% rice and 40% husk of the paddy being fed. The solar powering has been very useful during the lockdown as the region suffers heavy load shedding and frequent power cuts. If diesel were to be used as a backup fuel, they would take 2 days to procure diesel during the time of lockdown which would have hampered their service and production.
Earlier in Latehar, there was no decentralized rice milling solution or service available. People had to go 10 km to a centralized solution to get the service. Adopting this decentralized approach the SHG is much closer to their dream target of producing 20 packets x 20 kgs per day with processes including rice procurement, hulling, polishing & packing.