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Hope for the Future: Maltilata Naik’s Story

October 27, 2020

Impacts of COVID-19

Millions of people in India have lost their sources of livelihood, and poverty has increased since central authorities issued a nationwide lockdown that lasted more than 70 days to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has significantly impacted all sectors of the economy, especially the agriculture sector. With incomes generated from small businesses, remittances, agriculture, and trade threatened, smallholder farmer communities are in jeopardy of falling into severe poverty.

Farmers finding a way

Despite this challenging environment, Maltilata Naik, a smallholder farmer in Asankudar village of Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, found a way to feed her family. As the primary breadwinner now, she’s aware of how crucial her income is.

“At a time when so many people had to struggle for daily meals, I was able to ensure enough food for my family and money for basic household expenses. There was just enough for all of us, through most of these days,” she said.

Maltilata lives with her husband, mother-in-law, and two sons. They own less than an acre of land where they cultivate paddy and a variety of vegetables. On the small piece of land, they are only able to produce enough paddy to fulfill their household requirements. The family also grows vegetables on their land and in kitchen gardens to consume and sell in the local market. Maltilata’s husband, Rajkishor Naik, works as a mason at a construction site and works under the government scheme MNREGA *. While the couple earns between INR 5,000-6,000 ($66.67–$80 USD) a year from selling vegetables from their land, most of the household income comes from Rajkishor’s earnings as a daily laborer. He usually earns between INR 15,000–20,000 ($200–$266.67 USD) a year from working under a government program and local job opportunities, but this income disappeared once the national lockdown started.

Although the family had savings in the bank, they couldn’t access it due to movement restrictions during the lockdown. For almost ten years, Maltilata raised poultry. Still, she never saw it as a major source of income and nutrition for her family until she started participating in the Hatching Hope project. She used to keep a flock of 15 to 20 unsheltered birds, leaving them to scavenge for food. The birds never received any veterinary care, and many died from attacks by wild animals and disease outbreaks in the area. This left Maltilata’s household with only a few birds to consume occasionally.

Under the Hatching Hope project, Maltilata and other self-help groups were trained in improved backyard poultry management practices. She has noticed how these training helped her improved production.

“A didi (elder sister) comes and trains us on chicken production. She tells us to keep our birds in a coop and give them feed. I don’t have a chicken coop, but I keep my birds separately now. I give them broken rice, greens, and moringa leaves,” Maltilata said.

Maltilata also uses vaccination and deworming services provided by a local community vaccinator. She said, “Mortality in my birds has reduced, and their health has also improved.”
By adopting improved practices, Maltilata has increased her flock size from an average of 15–20 birds to approximately 80–90 birds. At the beginning of the lockdown, Maltilata had 90 birds. To pay for their household expenses, she sold 18 birds for INR 8,600 ($114.67 USD) in the past three months.

“Buyers used to come and buy birds from us directly, based on weight.  I learned this approach during my training,” she said.

Weight-based sales had helped her sell her birds at better prices compared to when vendors would offer prices that they wanted. Since Maltilata started selling birds on a live weight basis, she knows the difference in the prices and the profit she can earn.

In addition to increasing Maltilata’s income, chickens have helped ensure her family has a nutritious diet. The family has consumed eight birds in three months. They also have introduced eggs into their daily diet.

Maltilata is also utilizing her production training in her gardening. “I used to grow vegetables in my kitchen garden, but the training has helped me increase my production,” she said. Currently, she cultivates approximately three quintals of vegetables from her land in three months during the cultivation season. She grows eggplant, okra, bitter gourd, and tomatoes. In the last few months, she’s sold INR 5,300 ($70.67 USD) worth of vegetables from her garden. During the months when access to markets were limited by movement restrictions, the family consumed fresh vegetables from their garden.

Through poultry and garden sales, Maltilata has added INR 13,900 ($185.33 USD) to her household income during three months of the lockdown period.

“There was no acute shortage of food for us at any point during this period, unlike some households in the locality. The things we did not have we arranged to get them from local grocery shops that would remain open for a couple of hours every day. But, if we did not have enough money to buy them, then it would have been a difficult time for us,” she says.

This additional income helped Maltilata manage her regular household expenses and the cost of treating her husband’s illness. Rajkishor was diagnosed with typhoid in April and taken to the district’s headquarters, Baripada, where he was hospitalized for two days and put on medication for further treatment. The entire treatment cost Maltilata approximately INR 4,000 ($53.33 USD), which she was able to pay for it by selling birds.

After seeing what selling poultry can do for her family, Maltilata is optimistic about her future.
“I wish to increase my flock size further and earn more income. I want to spend this on the my children’s education. We did not have hope earlier because we did not know how we will do this. But now, we have hope.”