Indian farmers accounted for three lakh suicides between 1998 and 2018. In large cities, the suicides were discussed but soon forgotten. However, Delhi teenager, Aarnav Aggarwal, was different. He wanted to do something to prevent farmer suicides and help their livelihood. He pioneered a unique mentorship programme, UjjBhav, short for Ujjwal Bhavisha or bright future. His programme addresses the agricultural problem and helps farmers become self-reliant.
The seed is planted
17-year-old Aarnav’s decision was a result of a visit to Vidarbha, the epicentre of farmer suicides in India. He was shocked when he read a newspaper article, three years ago, about the epidemic. He realized farmer suicides constituted 11.2% of total suicides in India. Aarnav wanted to alleviate their problems. In the beginning, the farmers did not take the young boy seriously. In an interview with The Better India, Arnav admitted, “They treated me like a child. Some even said, ‘What could this boy do that we couldn’t, to save us from mounting debts?’ I didn’t even know how to interact in Marathi. All I knew was that I had to build their trust.”
B R Kathalkar, a farmer and the co-founder of UjjBhav became Aarnav’s mentor and guide. He roped in his farmer group, Krishi Vikas Audyogic Saha Sanstha, consisting of 48 senior farmers and agriculture professionals. They launched two initiatives to benefit small and marginalized farmers. Their network currently comprises 452 farmers and agricultural experts.
The farmers’ problems
Aarnav realized the farmers had multiple problems, with no single solution. The soil quality was poor, yields were low, crops were attacked by pests and corrupt middlemen caused more debt. The cotton crop’s slow growth rate prevented returns even on initial investments. They also used toxic chemical pesticides. Their problems kept the farmers stuck in a vicious circle, which is why they preferred death as a solution.
How does UjjBhav function?
UjjBhav has pioneered a mentorship programme connecting distressed farmers with successful farmers and agriculture professionals. The farmers get guidance on daily field-related issues and averting disastrous situations. The issues could be creating awareness and reaping benefits from government policies to optimizing crop selection. This voluntary support is free for the farmers. UjjBhav helped farmers abandon pesticides and transition to organic farming. Intercropping techniques were adopted to circumvent the cotton crop problem. Planting two or three crop varieties on their land, helped farmers recover their initial investment and make a profit.
UjjBhav’s other initiative is ‘plant a tree’. So far, farmers have planted 6150 trees on barren land. And they hope to cross the 10,000 mark soon.
According to Aarnav, most of the farmers have seen a 25% hike in income. One of their farmers, Vishnu Tale’s, 1.5-acre organic farm yields more than a 10-acre farm, incessantly sprayed with pesticides. Tale has now furnished his home with all necessities. His story is a great example of self-reliance. Kathalkar states Tale’s success is the result of right guidance and his willingness to adopt new and beneficial methods.
Aarnav is a true leader and inspiration for his generation. He shows if you want to help your fellow humans, there is always a way. Everyone should do their bit to make the world better
Image: The Better India