In One Of India’s Most Suicide-prone Areas, Whatsapp Is Bringing Hope & Support

For ages, they’ve been fighting a tough battle against a brutal ‘system’. But now, tech-savvy farmers of Maharashtra are sharing best practices, exploring new markets and building infrastructure, all through their phones. What’s more, they are also planning to take their community’s voice to the government.

Amhi vasare vasare, muki upasi vasare,   (We are speechless, hungry calves)
Gaya panhavato amhi, chor kalatat dhar.   (We tend to the cows, while others steal the milk.)
Tapa tapa gham unarato, unarato bhuivar,   (We sweat on the fields all day,)
Moti pikavato amhi, tari upasi lekare.’   (And cultivate pearls, while our children have nothing to eat.)

– Krishna Kalamb, a farmer poet, poured out the anguish of his everyday struggle into these verses. Then one day, when the pain became unbearable, he ended his life.

When untimely rains lashed the country in March, a suburban Mumbaikar tweeted, “Wow! Surprise rain in Mumbai… I am loving it!!”

Elsewhere, in the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, two farmers—a cotton grower and an onion cultivator—hanged themselves. All that had lain ahead of them was to watch their kids starve or take loans they could never pay back.

In India, 60-70% of the people depend directly or indirectly on agriculture. Yet, farmers constitute 11.2% of all suicides in the country. Long left at the mercy of an insensitive system, farmers in Maharashtra are now taking charge of their own destiny.

On a WhatsApp group, ‘Baliraja’, over a hundred farmers from various villages are seeking and sharing agriculture advice, connecting with experts in various fields and learning new practices.

farmer

 
PHOTO FOR REPRESENTATION PURPOSE ONLY. SOURCE: USF.VC

Baliraja is the brain child of Anil Bandawane, once an engineering student, who has now taken up farming full time. Dissatisfied with the rather impractical ‘Kisaan call centres’, Anil found out a Facebook group named ‘Baliraja’, and brought them together on WhatsApp.

“Most of the farmers in our villages have mobile phones. They use the latest technology in their farming too. But still there are a lot of problems. In our WhatsApp group, we have a few experts too who give us timely solutions,” says Anil.

He, along with Krishnat Patil, owner of a fertiliser firm, advise the group on use of fertilisers and pesticides, and various other farming technologies. Apart from Krishnat, Anil also shared the admin rights with Sujay Kumthekar, Shubham Indhe, Ramdas Shingote, Vaibhav and Vilas Thatod, all with different areas of expertise.

Vilas, for example, is Baliraja’s resident weatherman, while chef Sujay—who hasn’t abandoned the family tradition of farming—recently educated the group about exotic vegetables like broccoli.

On Baliraja, group members can enquire about the market, utility and price of zucchini.
On Baliraja, group members can enquire about the market, utility and price of zucchini.
…or disucss innovations like the milk collecting robot.
…or disucss innovations like the milk collecting robot.

Yunus Khan, works with Akola-based ‘Agri Clinic and Agri Buisness Centre’, which provides agricultural business training. He shares his experience of various visits to agro and dairy exhibitions with the farmers.

Amol Sainwar, founder of NGO HOPE, is a Man Friday, always ready to help with whatever the farmers need most. For instance, the cultivators recently talked about the losses they faced due to unavailability of a warehouse. And now Amol, with the help of his NGO and the farmers, is ready to build one that can serve at least three villages. (You can read more about HOPE here.)

 Amol Sainwar and his NGO are ready to build a warehouse for farmers.
Amol Sainwar and his NGO are ready to build a warehouse for farmers.

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