Dantewada has found its golden goose, except, it’s a chicken. An iridescent black, from eyes to wattles, with slate-grey feet and protein-rich black meat, they call it the Kadaknath or kariakukdi. And it’s changing lives in this impoverished and conflict-ridden region of Chhattisgarh.
The chicken sells for Rs 400 to Rs 900 a piece, at the farm level — against Rs 150 to Rs 300 for a regular chicken.
As part of a district-level initiative, women are being given Kadaknath chicks at a fraction of the cost, and with the money they are making from rearing and selling them, they’re rain-proofing their homes, paying for siblings to go to college and, in one case, buying a motorcycle.
The tale of how the
came to their aid is part of a larger story of change in Dantewada that now encompasses a free wi-fi zone, e-rickshaws, an education zone, and the district’s first BPO.
The Naxalite threat remains — the last attempted attack on CRPF officials was less than a month ago. “We are not Naxalite-free, but we hope to be,” says district collector Saurabh Kumar. “It won’t be an armed victory. We will achieve victory when villagers repose their faith in the administration. When they start believing that if they have a problem, they can approach the authorities and we will listen to them. That day, we will have won.”
There are nearly 1,500 women raising Kadaknath in Dantewada, either individually or as part of the district’s 160 self-help groups. The women receive 21-day-old chicks from the government’s district-level Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK).
Each batch of 500 chicks needs a 450-sq-ft shed. They are fed three times a day, checked on regularly for any signs of illness. It’s also become the norm to hang bamboo swings for them to play on.
In three months, the chicks generally reach the target weight of 1.5 kg and are sold either to local traders or to a company that has tied up with the district administration to buy the chickens in bulk. And then it’s time for the next round of chicks to arrive.
The district subsidises 90% of cost for the first batch of chicks, and 75% for the second batch. KVK helps with training and basic infrastructure like construction of the sheds and chicken feed.
Most of the birds go to markets in Hyderabad and Vijayawada. There is now demand growing in Delhi too, but it’s difficult for the birds to survive a journey of 16 hours. So there are plans for a slaughterhouse and cold storage in Dantewada.
Eventually, the subsidies will be phased out, the farmers encouraged to buy incubators (the Kadaknath does not hatch its own eggs) and the farming of the black chicken will, hopefully, take off in earnest.
Most of the women are aged 18 to 45; high-school dropouts, former farm labourers, widows and single parents.
Champa Atami, 24, is both a dropout and former labourer. “I used to earn Rs 172 a day, on days when I could find work,” she says. “Since May, I earn a steady Rs 30,000 every three months.”
A new tin roof glints on Atami’s mud home. Where her parents – paddy farmers – couldn’t afford her school fees, she is now saving up so her sister Ranjeeta, the youngest of four siblings, can graduate.