Founded by entrepreneur Rohit Shelatkar, Grand Maratha Foundation works for the well being and empowerment of farmers from the Vidarbha and other regions of Maharashtra. In this interview with Sreetama Datta Roy of Elets News Network, Shelatkar, Vice President Vitabiotics Ltd talks about his vision about the NGO and plans.
What is the vision and mission of the Grand Maratha Foundation?
Our mission is to empower farmers, give them confidence and help them become self-reliant. We are aiding them to enhance their livelihood through long-term sustainable solutions. We are focussed on providing them with the right educational opportunities, innovative farming techniques, E-learning, and financial support.
This is fuelled by our vision to elevate the lives of farmers and their families. We strive to reach out to maximum number of farmers and their family members, across the villages of Vidarbha. We are committed to making them self-sufficient to the extent that no farmer takes his own life because of debt trapped situations. Around 50 people are involved with Grand Maratha Foundation.
What motivated you to take the initiative to start the foundation?
Knowing that farmers are facing arduous challenges such as drought and unseasonal rains and committing suicide due to the high debts incurred in the bid to remedy this, it left me feeling immensely disturbed. I knew that just extending superficial support was not a long-term solution. I decided to delve in and identify the root cause and come up with a permanent solution.
What are the reasons for choosing the area of farmer welfare?
Deep inside I always desired to work towards the betterment of my country and countrymen in a substantial way. Since I was born in Maharashtra, I was well aware of the situation of farmers in the region and felt connected to this cause.
Tell us about some of the major initiatives or schemes taken by the foundation?
Our initiative, Cotton Seed Distribution Project, arranged the distribution of pulses and cotton seeds to 110 Vidarbha Farm Widows of Pandharkodha Village in Yavatmal. This gave them quality seeds to grow abundant crops, without making an investment.
We have also successfully conducted the General Medical Camp at Kalwa, where more than 500 people underwent medical check-ups and were provided with medicines.
Distribution of relief aid to the families of farmers who committed suicide after their crops withered owing to climate change in the region is a continuous, on-going activity for us.
Please share some details about the specific outreach programmes.
As a part of our Vidarbha Farmers Empowerment Project, Grand Maratha Foundation has conducted a food and seed distribution drive. The food grains and seeds were distributed to farmer’s widows and farmers from Vidarbha Region.
With the Kisan Pragati Melawa, farmers were provided with key information on ‘Shendriya Sheti’ (organic farming) and ‘Paryayi Sheti’ (alternative farming), which are lucrative markets. This initiative emphasised the need to turn back to ‘organic’ farming, instead of the current chemical-based farming. We created the awareness that while chemical based farming is more convenient and generates crops faster and more easily, it will have a huge repercussion on human life (owing to chemical infested food). It will also affect their farms and make them unfit for the next generation to grow crops in.
In another initiative, Vatvruksha Karyashaal with Mahila Bachatagat, 60 artisans and craftswomen were introduced to the concepts and methods of marketing their textile products to bigger markets such Tier I and Tier II cities.
Grand Maratha Foundation had also conducted Help and Empowerment Training Camp at Kolam Tribal Pod, Tad Umari, to disburse relief and help the tribal people, especially those who are physically handicapped.
What is the source of funding?
Most of our initiatives are self-funded. However, we have recently started running Social Media campaigns to invite donations. Apart from this we have been receiving funds from our Individual donors.
How many farmers families have you worked with so far?
We have designed programmes to aid farmers and their families. Through this, we were able to help more than 200 students complete their higher education in specialised fields like Engineering and Management and pursue jobs. Other programmes include providing immediate relief to families who suffer trauma due to farmer suicide, empowering the farmers with alternate farming techniques and sustainable farming solutions. We also support small self-help groups of women in remote areas to be self-sustained. More than 2000 farmers have directly received benefits of the activities conducted by us.
Our ultimate aim is to reach out to the maximum number of farmers and farmer families which will enable the villages across Vidarbha and Marathwada stand as self-sufficient so that no farmer takes his own life because of debt-trapped situations.
Please share some positive incidents or achievements.
We have been able to generate income opportunity by providing spray pumps with safety kit which enables the farmer to earn rentals on the spray pumps. Each farmer can earn over Rs 2,50,000 in a season.
All soil testing machines gave income opportunities to trained youth in villages. These trained youth have an income earning potential of more than Rs 15-20 lakh.
Many families farm one dozen chicks, which earns them gross revenue of over Rs 9-12 lakh.
We have distributed over 200 LED head-gear torches to the farmers so that they comfortably reach their farms safely at night and before the dawn.
Supported by GMF, a number of students have completed their higher education and are currently working in their respective fields.
We have supported and encouraged entrepreneurial ventures for farmers’ widows by providing them with sewing machines, flour or spice grinding machines, handcarts to set up vegetables or fruits stalls, and more.
What are the initiatives in the pipeline for the upcoming years?
We are planning to participate in Tata Mumbai Marathon 2020 which is a fundraising platform and one of the world’s leading Marathons. I am also an ardent follower of history and culture. I have done extensive research on Maratha history for several years. I am currently working on a book about the history of Maharashtra, with a significant focus on the inspiring contribution of Maharashtrians in various fields such as Economics, Science, freedom struggle, sports, art, music and entertainment. We are also planning to conduct three different activities in this financial year in Vidarbha and Marathwada which will be beneficial for farmers and their families.
Is there any plan to expand the foundation beyond Maharashtra?
Yes, merely supporting sections of the society to counter the effects of the problems is not a permanent solution. We should focus on eradicating the problems from their roots. To eliminate them completely, it is necessary to locate their roots and deal with them permanently. There is no point in depending on the administration for every single issue. As citizens, we too have our duties. We should start from our home and family. As the work in Maharashtra progresses, I will expand my work in all over India too.