At a time an increasing number of debt-ridden farmers in Maharashtra are committing suicide, two farmers—Vivek Mahajan and Maya Lambat—are, in their own little way, trying to ensure that the spate of suicides abates.
Mahajan and Lambat were among 80-odd farmers from Maharashtra who were awarded by the state government for their work in the field of agriculture at a ceremony at Raj Bhawan in south Mumbai on Friday.
While Mahajan was honoured with the Udyan Pandit award for outstanding work in the field of horticulture, Lambat, an agriculturist from Chikhlapur in Nagpur district, won the Jijamata Krishibhushan award for her work in the field of vermiculture.
Mahajan—a qualified architect who divides his time equally between his practice in Chennai and farming in Karanjalad village in the suicide belt of Vidarbha—is trying to bring small farmers together and work towards making agriculture more viable for them.
"It was my father's dream to help small farmers increase their agricultural income," says the 33-year-old who grows mangoes, custard apples, sweet lime and amla on his 25-acre orchard.
"He had a team of farmers who he used to give direction to but they scattered after he died. I am trying to connect with them again," he said.
He believes that farmers should look at alternative agricultural activities as an answer to their problems.
Lambat (47) and her husband Narayanrao are already doing this.
Lambat has helped 24 farmers in her village set up vermiculture systems. The couple is also advising farmers to explore fruit cultivation and teaching them how to grow seeds at home so they can cut costs.
"Farmers have to learn to explore new options instead of stubbornly sticking to their traditional crops," reasons Narayanrao. "I grew chillies but there was no market for it. I still have two years' stock lying unsold. So now I concentrate on other areas."
The Lambats, who own an orange orchard spread over 28 acres, did suffer losses for a couple of years and were forced to take loans. "Every farmer has to take loans. But the idea is to plan how to use that money," says Lambat's doctor husband, Naranyanrao, as his shy wife listens quietly.
Mahajan also believes this kind of diversification is necessary. He also roots for better research in agriculture so that farmers can use more cost-effective techniques. "We have to push the government and agricultural institutes for more work in the area of organic farming," he explains. "There is little knowledge about the availability of markets for organic farmers."
"Committing suicide is a crime," Lambat finally speaks, "and it does not solve problems."