In 3 Yrs, Over 200 Drought-Hit Farmers Got 30,000+ Fruit Saplings, Now Each Earn Up To Rs 2 Lakh Extra

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Years ago, farmer Meda Mallaiah from Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh used to cultivate only rain-fed crops like bajra, horse gram, groundnut and pulses, in his meagre landholding of eight acres. Rains were abundant in monsoon and the harvest would be enough for Mallaiah to sustain his family.

Gradually, with aggravating climate change, the rains declined, so did Mallaiah’s annual yield; so much so that after a point, he had to move to Bengaluru in search of alternative livelihood options. A true son of the soil was now forced to survive doing menial jobs in dingy urban lanes.

Mallaiah was just one among many hundreds of farmers who were pushed to the edge by consistent droughts in Anantapur, which soon emerged to be one of the most drought-prone regions in the country. Many migrated out. The unfortunate ones who could not, perished in a tragic death. Farmer suicide rates skyrocketed within a few years.

Fast forward today, Meda Mallaiah is back to his roots, now a happy mango cultivator from Anantapur.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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All credits go to Kapil Sharma from Say Trees

The credits must be given to Kapil Sharma, and his amazing work with farmers through his organisation Say Trees. Since 2015, Say Trees has helped 61 farmers in Anantapur plant over 28,000 fruit-bearing saplings, which is now their source for a sizeable parallel income.

Mallaiah shares, “I returned and planted mango as an intercrop, interspersed seasonally with the usual crops. Now, traders are approaching with offers in one or two lakh rupees to buy my mango harvest each year.”

It must be mentioned here that Say Trees has also helped the farmers to set up highly effective drip irrigation facilities in their farms, which conserves a lot of water. As the state government offers subsidies to farms with drip irrigation, this is also reducing investment cost for the cultivators.

Inspiration behind the farmers’ project in Anantapur

Till 2015, Say Trees’ work has been restricted in the urban domain. They were planting patches of dense green forests in the concrete jungle of Bengaluru. Talking to Efforts For Good, Say Trees founder Kapil Sharma shares his motivation behind launching the project with farmers.

“In 2015, I was invited to attend World Forestry Congress, organised by United Nations in Durban, South Africa. The convention gave me a deep insight into agroforestry, and how it is solving agrarian crises in a number of developing countries. At that time, farmer suicides was a haunting reality in India. I decided to stand beside the helpless farmers at such trying times,” he narrates.

Kapil had acquaintances in drought-hit Anantapur, where he decided to pilot his initiative. Persuading the farmers to grow fruit trees in a portion of their land was a cakewalk, as the distressed farmers were seeking an additional source of income. Eleven farmers came forward with approximately five acres of land each, who Say Trees supplied with 4,000 fruit-bearing saplings of mango, jamun, guava, pomegranate, chikoo, amla etc.

The impact was visible soon

Within a year, the trees bore fruit in plenty. “This would not have been possible without sheer dedication from the farmers, who braved the scorching heat to maintain their fruit saplings. Even in such a dry district, the saplings had an unbelievable survival rate of over 90%,” reveals Kapil.

At present, the farmers gain a minimum of Rs 60,000 to Rs 2,00,000 extra annual income from the fruit trees.

However, the impact of the fruit trees cannot simply be measured in monetary terms, feels Kapil. “The trees are helping to improve the green cover. That, in turn, is helping to raise the groundwater table and soil retention rate, which holds the key to end the droughts in the near future,” he shares.

Working with Maharashtra farmers

Previously, many farmers were heavily dependent on the surrounding natural forests for timber, fodder and other forest-based resources. To alleviate the pressure on the natural vegetation, Kapil and his team are planning to supply timber saplings to the farmers in the upcoming plantation season. They want to curb the dependence of these farmers on the forest while creating an alternative earning prospect.

In 42 villages of Maharashtra, Say Trees has contributed over 5,000 coconut saplings to 204 farmers. “We worked with farmers in villages and suburbs like Dhansar, Tembhode, Dapoli, Umroli, Ambedkar Nagar etc. All of these are located along the coastal belt, where coconut trees will flourish easily,” details Kapil.

Tamil Nadu features next on the list for Say Trees farmers’ project, where they look forward to replicating their successful initiatives of Anantapur.

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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