By Rusen Kumar
MUMBAI: Rohit Shelatkar is the Director at Vitabiotics Ltd., which is the UK’s leading vitamin company and has manufactured innovative health care supplements for over 4 decades creating a unique portfolio of products at the forefront of scientific developments including specialised men, women and children’s health.
Excerpts of interview:
What triggered you to come up with this organization?
We often hear about farmer suicides and always blame the government for the situation. But I feel that as citizens it’s our responsibility to contribute towards our country and the well being of its people. There is no point in depending on the administration for every single issue.
The sight of our own people fighting many odds, farmers facing drought and unseasonal rains, committing suicide due to the burden of borrowings, their wives and children caught in poverty, immensely disturbed me. I knew that just extending superficial support was not a long term solution. It was important to understand the core problem and nip it in the bud. We decided to locate the root cause and come up with a permanent solution.
Ours was a humble start but we were extremely positive that even small pathways would become highways to progress. Strong will, conviction and unconditional perseverance was all that was needed and I decided to establish a charitable organization called ‘Grand Maratha Foundation’ and started working towards the mission.
What is the focus of the initiative – Grand Maratha Foundation?
In Maharashtra, there are more than 5500 villages, where agriculture is running traditionally under less availability of water. But in recent times a lot of people are moving towards urban areas. Only 30% of people are actual farmers who get engaged in producing food for 100% population. Out of those more than 80% are living in despicable condition. There is no sufficient drinking and irrigation water. Low literacy owing to poverty, unavailability of educational/technical institutes, lack of agricultural education/training to farmers about new techniques, bad condition of roads, high load shedding of electricity and absence of primary health care facilities are some of the major problems faced by the farmers.
The focus of Foundation is to target this section and uplift them through better amenities, education and exposure to superior farming technology. Our research is extensive. We identify the families and analyze their problems in depth before designing solutions. Some may require financial help to educate their children, others need to be exposed to E-Learning to enhance their current capabilities, and some may need help with distribution system and so on.
What is that one critical problem that you intend to solve through Grand Maratha Foundation?
The root cause of all problems faced by farmers and which leads to maximum farmer suicides is debt. Farmers are coaxed in for high interest rates after being promised crop at higher rates from private money lenders. Once the crop is ready, the prices are reduced to as low as cost price. This results into more debt year on year and farmers eventually lose their land to the private money lenders. We have a plan to give education to farmers which covers right pricing to efficient distribution to modern techniques so as to empower the farmers in creating a better livelihood for themselves and break this vicious circle of debt and poverty.
Share some programs done by Grand Maratha Foundation in the past?
We have done many programs in the past, with a special focus on Vidarbha. To mention few activities like; providing financial help to facilitate the farmers give best education to their kids and for starting allied activities in the agrarian and rural sector which involve widows who can earn their livelihood. We have also introduced and encouraged E-Learning through donation of a computer to Yeour Municipal School. We have facilitated distribution of relief aid to the families of farmers who committed suicide after crop failure due to dry spell and climate change effect in the region. We helped in the distribution of seed of pulses and cotton to 110 Vidarbha farm widows of Pandharkarda Village in Yavatmal.
What are the future plans of Grand Maratha Foundation?
As mentioned earlier the objective of Foundation is to enhance the livelihood of the farmers. We do not believe in providing immediate way out but in giving sustainable solutions. We want the farmers to be future ready. We want to minimize the operational glitches faced by them and empower them to live a better life. We also plan to start an institute that will be training the farmers and farmer families.
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