The agrarian crisis plaguing south India has spurred an NGO and a group of activists into action, setting up an online petition that seeks to crowdfund a 'One Crore Farmer Fund' to assist farmers and to tackle the crisis.
The petition was started by Suresh Ediga, an NRI software engineer based in New Jersey, and primarily looks to help farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
The activists have prepared a detailed plan, with a goal of distributing all donations into short-term solutions and long-term solutions. While the short-term solutions involve relief to the families of farmers who committed suicide and better implementation of technology, long-term solutions involve establishing helplines and setting up farmer training centres.
The petition also earmarks 30 to 40% of the funds raised to help farmers in distress, while investing in programs and campaigns to educate farmers on adopting organic and natural farming techniques.
"I'm a software engineer by profession and a full-time volunteer by passion. I came to the US to pursue my Masters in 2000 and I have been volunteering to support people back home, in whatever way I can, ever since then," says Suresh.
Suresh says that he has been working on farmer issues for around 7 or 8 years, and even registered a non-profit around three-and-a-half years ago, with the help of a few friends, to help them in a more sustained manner.
"Farmers, unfortunately, have been reduced to mere election issues. The political parties are farmer friendly before the elections but after they come into power, they become irrelevant. This attitude also reflects in their policies," Suresh says.
"However, the blame is not just with the parties and the governments. The blame is with us as well. What have we done for the farmers? Over 3.2 lakh Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1996. Did we ever do a campaign to help our farmers? Did we ever go to the Collector's office in support of our farmers?" Suresh asks.
Suresh says that he started the petition because, "It's about time we do something to show that we do care for our farmers and we are willing to do more than critiquing. Since donating money is the easiest option when compared to donating time, effort and skill, we begin with this."
All the donations on the petition will go to the Centre For Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), a Hyderabad-based non-profit organisation.
The CSA also has a solid network of volunteers and NGOs on the ground across different states in India.
“We can make useful interventions to improve their situation. For one, we procured 20 tonnes of red gram in Enabavi in Jangaon district in Telangana after prices crashed to Rs. 40 per kg. We bought it for Rs. 60-65, giving them significant relief. If we develop a workable model, people will emulate and scale this up to several villages,” GV Ramanjaneyulu, Chief Executive Officer of the CSA, told BusinessLine.
The petition also outlines the success stories of how the organisation and activists changed two villages - one in Telangana and one in Andhra.
"Since we have been working on farmers issues for a while, we are in direct contact with many of them, and we know what kind of help is needed," Suresh says.
He added that they plan to launch a website soon to maintain complete transparency and accountability for these funds.
When asked if people in an urban setting are numb to farmers and the agrarian crisis, Suresh responds, "Yes and No."
"The fact that we raised over Rs. 12 lakh now shows that there is a great sense of compassion and willingness to do something substantial for our farmers. Very often what stops us, is that we don't have a means to channel our good will. The challenge is to reach out to more people and I'm very confident we will be able to create enough awareness, and also help engage with the farmers in a meaningful way. It's not easy but it's doable and it must be done," he adds.
Suresh also says that, "My job is to be consistent and be patient and keep pushing forward. This is one campaign where we cannot afford to lose."
When asked about future plans, Suresh says there are plenty of projects in the pipeline, "from supporting sustainable agriculture, to building technology solutions to make information more accessible to the farmers."
A link to the petition can be found here.