These Vidharba farmers beat the debt trap

When Manmohan Singh announced a relief package for Vidarbha farmers, a nondescript village in Washim humbly rejected the ‘aid’ and decided to stand on its feet.

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These Vidharba farmers beat the debt trap


WASHIM: Two years ago, when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh announced a relief package for the indebted Vidarbha farmers, a nondescript village in Washim district humbly rejected the ‘aid’ and, instead, decided to stand on its feet. The villagers chose to ride a collective vision to overcome economic depression.

This year, when distraught farmers hailed the loan waiver sop across India, farmers of Girata village, located 200 km from Nagpur, once more said ‘no’ to it. What’s more, they declared themselves debt-free earlier this year and even contributed to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund on January 26 and August 15. Every single villager contributed a day’s earning to raise the corpus, even as the village panchayat passed a resolution to follow the practice every year.

“We think it’s better to be off the crutches,” holds Prakash Rathod, chairman of the Sevalal Self-Help-Group (SHG) of the village. It’s this farmers’ collective that is trying to change the face of this village of 800 people, slowly but surely.

“What we need is adequate credit at low interest rates to finance our productive activities, and better prices for our produce,” says a confident Prakash.

Girata is crafting its success story through a collective micro-credit plan and scripting a white revolution of sorts.

Says the Sarpanch, Madhukar Chavan: “We’re building our village economy on milk because dairy has huge scope and potential.” The dairy that the villagers’ collective founded with two buffaloes a year ago has scaled its operations to 250 animals, with daily milk collection of about 500 litres in just a year’s time.

But it has yet to gain sustainability and viability, says Shrawan Rathod, 65, the veteran villager who is showing the way to the SHG. “For viability, we need to scale up the operations to 500 animals and at least 2,000 litres of milk.”

The villagers borrowed the concept from Shrawan, who had a dozen buffaloes and would sell the milk in the neighbouring villages to make a decent living. “It brings daily income,” he says. “You need to work hard.” Shrawan’s land use planning and rain-water harvesting is what has made sustainable growth possible. His sons understood the concept and expanded it. He reserves 30 per cent of his 10-acre-farm for food crop: mainly sorghum. “It was our region’s time-tested model,” he says. “But the farmers shifted to cash crops and forgot to grow jowar, bajra, millets. These provide food security to my family, and fodder to the animals. Plus, they help me do organic farming, which reduces expenses on chemicals,” he says.

The Girata SHG, to which he’s a mentor, is imitating his model — farming and live stock management that reduces risks and shields them from volatilities. “We transport milk in autorickshaws to Washim, where we sell it,” informs Prakash. The dairy collective clocks a monthly income of Rs4 lakh with a net profit of Rs1 lakh, which is shared equally by its 20 members. That comes to a modest Rs5,000 a month-per head or Rs60,000 per annum, in addition to the returns from agriculture. Each member contributes Rs100 to the collective as his monthly saving. Thus the 20 members save Rs2,000 every month, or Rs24,000 annually.

A majority of the villagers are now linked to this activity. Now, the neighbouring 23 villages have decided to follow the model, with Girata as the epicenter. “We’ll increase our production, form a 23-village federation, and diversify into processing,” says Prakash. The collective that owns an autorickshaw, a tractor, and a deep-freezer now wants to buy a van with a chiller for better milk transportation. The SHG has also set up an outlet at Washim to sell milk to consumers. Two women’s collectives of the village have taken on the responsibility of keeping the financial records of the village dairy.

“It’s a great achievement for the villagers,” says Shekhar Natrajan, former manager of the SBI branch in Shendurjana. Once he was convinced the villagers had a workable plan, says Natrajan, he focused on effective and adequate micro-credit for their SHG.

“Not a single farmer in our village has outstanding dues,” claims Prakash proudly. When you see the extreme indebtedness of farmers in the region, which lead to farmers’ suicides, Girata is a great success story.
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