Helping survive nature's disfavour
The year 2016 has been extraordinarily harsh to the farming communities of Maharashtra. The state experienced drought to abominably serious levels as the months rolled out this year. By March, the sacred Ramkund pond in Nasik District, where thousands performed ablutions, went dry - something that had never happened in the past 130 years.
By April, over 30,000 farmers were on the street pleading for loan waiver and compensation for crop failure. By May, the number of distressed farmer suicides in the Nasik division alone had gone beyond 60. Even as farmers in the drought-hit Maharashtra have geared up for sowing operations, the weather department has issued a "go slow" advisory as the much-awaited monsoon seems to have delayed its arrival in the state.
As we watched, the support system for livelihood was crumbling and the rural sustainability was being destroyed by planetary elements we neither have control over nor absolute understanding of. Drought relief is not by any means part of the functional domain of Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). Neither do we have a mandate for it nor the resources and instruments for drought relief. However, since the welfare of rural communities is our shared moral responsibility, we in KVIC swung into action wherever possible and in whatever humble ways we could.
We realised that when farming failed, rains deserted, and resources became a mirage, we should try and bring in an enablement of another kind to people. We put together a novel training programme to empower the farming community in trades that depend much less on water and nature's waning mercy. KVIC on April 15, 2016 launched a special training program for farmers of drought-affected families at KVIC Nasik and Dhanu Training centres. Special training programs duration range from 15 day to 30 days.
From April 15 to June 10, we trained 452 farmers at Nasil and 750 farmers at Dhanu training centres in vocations such as incense-making, baking, soap and detergent making, pickle making, stitching etc., thus giving them another opportunity to dare the famine and survive with skills.
In coordinating this novel programme, both KVIC and the famine-stricken ill-fated community realised how important the vision of “Skill India” articulated by Prime Minister Modi.
It is also a process of collective learning as well as a valued demonstration that life skills could help people survive nature's disfavour and no matter what the official mandate of your organisation is, you could still contribute to community development and human empowerment in times of distress and insecurity.
Additionally, there were also 3 bore wells dug in the Nasik campus and water resource for public sharing was opened in a gesture of goodwill and brotherhood. In about two months time, we have the results of these efforts before us, restoring faith of those who had nearly resigned to an unkind fate.
At KVIC, we continue to raise to the occasion and push our limits of mandate in serving the nation and also distressed communities. We realise that establishing sustainability is like building a mountain that needs coordinated efforts of different organisations. And whether it is our direct purpose or a moral responsibility, we look for opportunities to empowerment and enable communities newer ways. KVIC is more of a mission than an organisation.
(V.K.Saxena is Chairman, Khadi & Village Industries Commission, New Delhi. Views are personal.)