MAHARASHTRA: A WhatsApp group at Murud of Latur district in Maharashtra has come to the aid of debt-ridden farmers and bright yet poor students in securing admission to good colleges. In return, the group expects each beneficiary to plant at least 10 saplings in their respective farm or vicinity. This has resulted in 10,000 trees being planted in the drought-prone village.
Murud-resident Abhijeet More started the group along with like-minded educated villagers. It was an incident in their village that changed the mood of the group. “A friend of mine, who was very bright, committed suicide because his family could not manage to collect Rs 45,000 for his sister’s marriage. A second consecutive drought in the region had increased the debt burden of the farmers, so no one could help him, which pushed him to take the extreme step,” informs More, adding, “We were too shocked. This was first suicide of this kind in the village. The discussion in our group then revolved around ways to do something for the people in need. We issued an appeal asking for monetary contribution as per one’s financial capacity. Within no time, we collected Rs 50,000 for the deceased family.”
With this, the group stopped sharing jokes and forwards, and focussed on constructive work. “We encouraged farmers to tell us about their urgent issues. The common problem was that the farmer had no money to till their land. We lend them our tractors, asking them to only bear fuel costs,” says More.
The group first helped the poorest farmers and gradually reached out to others. “Farmers also told us that the sowing season was around the corner, but they had no money to buy seeds. Again, we collected cash and bought the seeds,” recalls More. Some traders also extended help and donated soybean seeds. “We told the farmers that if they took 25 kg soyabean seeds for sowing, then after harvest, they would have to return 50 kg of the crop so that we can develop the seed bank for the needy poor farmers,” says another member of the WhatsApp group. More said the farmers in return for the seeds also had to plant 10 trees. “We brought the Malabar Neem tree from Chennai that grows fast and animals don’t eat it. In the last three years, most of the barren lands are covered with these trees that helped to retain the good soil in the rains,” he added.
The group then moved to help brilliant, underprivileged students. “We helped them to buy books and study material. If such a student wants admission in a college, we approach the college principal and ensure admission. We also make accommodation arrangements free of cost,” says More. Nevertheless, there are problems. “Many farmers did not give us the soybean seeds as promised saying the seeds were of poor quality or the production was low. We told them that if they didn’t cooperate, then the entire seed bank scheme would collapse. With time, they realised the seriousness of their role. Now, our success ratio is over 70 per cent,” said a villager.