BACKGROUND

The Sukhi Baliraja Initiative (SBI) was launched in 2008 to address farmer distress in the Vidarbha district of Maharastra, India. It is funded by the Tata Trusts — Sir Ratan Tata Trust and Allied Trusts, and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Allied Trusts. Tata group Founder Jamsetji Tata and his sons, Sir Dorab Tata and Sir Ratan Tata, created many philanthropic Trusts to benefit India and her people. They bequeathed a major portion of their personal wealth to create the corpus of the Trusts. The Tata Trusts support an assortment of causes, institutions and individuals in a wide variety of areas.

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood in Vidarbha, which lies to the east of Maharashtra. Cotton, soya bean and red gram are the main crops cultivated, followed by sorghum, paddy, tur (pigeon-pea) and other pulses. In about 2005, Vidarbha came into national and international focus due to a series of farmer suicides. The causative factors for the agrarian distress situation were many — years of drought, coupled with low yields, poor market access, lack of institutional credit, dependence on money-lenders, presence of middlemen and unfair trade practices. The erratic monsoon further aggravated the situation, often causing complete crop failure, delayed sowing and crop loss due to untimely showers. The absence of efficient agricultural extension services left farmers to the devices of local suppliers of pesticides, fertilisers and seeds, who ensnared farmers into using new products on credit. Lack of access to scientific advice led farmers to follow non-recommended and excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides, leading to increased input cost without significant net gain, further increasing their debt burden.

 

The worsening situation prompted the Trusts to launch SBI. The programme promoted a holistic livelihood strategy for the region to reduce distress among the farming community and empower them to face production and market risks without falling back into poverty. The strategy revolves around promoting livelihood options through thematic interventions, with the focus is on six distress districts, namely Yavatmal, Wardha, Washim, Buldhana, Akola and Amravati, which had seen maximum distress suicides.

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