When the rubber meets the road
A few months ago, Rang De initiated a technology fund for farmers. It enabled them to install much-needed tech utilities on their farms. This blog summarises the need for such an initiative explained by Sanjay Vidyarthi. He is one of our social investors who pitched the idea. The collaboration resulted in the ‘Tech for Good’ fund.
Here’s the story behind the intervention.
Where it all started
Sanjay Vidyarthi has a deep affinity towards the farmers of India. So much so that he took early retirement from his studious corporate career to work pro-bono for the rural people.
His corporate career spans 30+ years. He has worked with global leaders like Wipro, AT&T, Lucent and many more and has been in the cream of the cream.
In 2008, he had an opportunity to start a business & services for an MNC. He started with two and employed 2500+ people in 130 cities across 23 states in 10 years. It was at that time he started being in the thick of poverty in India.
80% of his workforce came from villages. Young men with a diploma, matriculation or an ITI degree. They lived on a monthly wage of 12-13k per month, saving on meals, sacrificing on leisure to be able to send as much money back to their homes. That shook him.
The true calling
With an urge to do something, to start somewhere, he and his colleagues took education as a route. They would teach kids and visit rural households to understand the scenario there. He learnt that there was no adequate infrastructure or proper standard of living. People with education had no employment. He felt this needed an intervention at a larger scale.
Sanjay decided to quit his job to work for this cause. He wanted to create job opportunities in the rural areas. He was convinced that he could outsource small businesses to create employment.
The hustle begins
He gave an example of MWBs (Minority women businesses) in the U.S. The US govt. gives a tax break if a business buys from MWBs. It helps MWBs compete in the market. Giving them a business of around $110 bn a year. He felt if such a policy is initiated by the Govt of India the small scale businesses could grow.
He shared this idea in his friend circle; the CTO at Airtel at that time suggested that he should pitch it to someone in the Prime Minister’s Office. He did some digging and got hold of the Vice-Chairman of NITI Ayog who had a difference of opinion.
The chairman remarked that the United States with a 23 trillion dollar economy can generate only around $110 billion worth of business with this model then It is not a viable solution. He suggested to Sanjay that if he really wanted to work in the rural areas, he should work for the upliftment of the farmers in India.
That’s when Sanjay started his mission.
The big question – WHY?
Why when there is already a lot done for farmers?
Doesn’t the countless welfare schemes, subsidies, policies and grants given to farmers amount to anything?
Sanjay gave some insights into the real picture. With actual figures and data from National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
82% of the total farmers in India are small & marginal farmers (SMF). They hold less than 2 hectares of land and have an average monthly agri-income of just Rs 3,140 per month.
Whenever a subsidy, of say, 70% is given to the farmers through a govt policy, where it gets stuck is 30% of the farmers’ share, which the farmers have to pay themselves. An irrigation facility subsidised for an acre of land would need the farmer to pay around 1 lakh rupees from his pocket to get the benefits.
The scenario is apt for large and medium-sized farmers. But the majority are simply left out because they don’t have that kind of capital lying around.
This results in low productivity yield per hectare due to poor technology adoption by the farmers. If we drill down further, the technologically adept farmers are low, with only 1.6 % having drip irrigation systems, 0.8% sprinkler systems and 5% having tractors.
The reality of our farmers
It is a lifelong dream for many of our farmers to buy a tractor. Might seem trivial but here’s Pankaj Tripathi who has been vocal about farmers sharing his story.
Working hand in hand
We at Rang De are aligned with Sanjay’s mission. Sharing a mutual goal for our farmers’ benefit. We worked out a tech fund and raised 3.5 lakhs with the help of 45 social investors. Seven farmers were able to integrate tube wells, diesel engine pumps and pipes into their farm. Else they would have to rent out these utilities and bear a hefty sum for the usage, cutting their meagre profits further.
The Impact on ground
Janaki Devi from Tonk, Rajasthan took a loan of Rs 50,000 to install an engine pump for irrigation. Earlier she paid Rs 100 per hour for renting the equipment from nearby fields. She grows wheat, sorghum, mustard and peanuts on her field. Irrigation is extensively required during dry spells. She has to pay close to Rs 20k annually for renting pumps to irrigate her fields. This loan will help her own a pump and increase her profit margins.
These changes are a big leap for the small and marginal farmers of India. It is not the grand schemes that uplift them but small progressive measures like ‘tech for good’ guarantees them a journey towards sustenance.
To be a part of the real impact invest at https://rangde.in/farmtech