Like many, Chhattisgarh’s Deenanath Rajput comes from a family that believed that pursuing engineering or medicine would be their son’s sole ticket to a comfortable life. So after he completed Class 12, he was sent to an engineering college to study against his wishes.
“In 2013, I completed my graduation in electronic engineering from Bhilai. I joined a software company in Bengaluru, but three months later, realised that I could not give this job my best. I was not satisfied with what I was doing,” he recalls in conversation with The Better India.
Deenanath says he had always wanted to stay connected with people at the grassroots and help better their lives. “I belong to an agricultural family and lived in Bastar, a tribal area. I had always felt the need to do something for the community,” he says.
Helping farmers earn double their income
So the 31-year-old quit his job and joined an NGO which was working to implement government schemes in villages. Deenanath also pursued a postgraduate degree in rural development and social work, while preparing for civil services. However, he could not qualify for the civil services examination.
“The NGO assigned me as a karmachari, a volunteer for the Swachh Bharat Mission, in Mungeli district. For my efforts, I received the Best Karmachari award in 2018,” he recalls.
During his stint with the NGO, Deenanath learned about how tribal communities were struggling to sell their farm produce. “I observed that they are facing difficulty in producing quality harvests due to a lack of scientific method implementations. They are unaware of food processing from a marketing perspective. Also, the traders often cheat them by offering a low price for their produce,” he says.
Deenanath then decided to form a Farmer Producer Company (FPO) to assist the community. “I established Bhumgadi FPO in 2018, starting with 337 tribal women, with the aim to help them sell and market their produce,” he says.
The engineer-turned-social worker says he taught members of the community efficient farming methods, how to use adequate amounts of fertilisers, understand weather, and made them abreast with government schemes for farmers.
Today, his initiative has stretched over three districts, Bastar, Kanker and Narayanpur, benefitting over 6,100 farmers. “All the farmers are shareholders in the company and receive 25 to 30 per cent profits,” he says.
The FPO offers fruits such as papaya, guava, and banana, as well as farm produce including finger millets, fox millets, wheat, maize, black gram and others. They also sell tamarind sauce, dry mango powder, and other items made via food processing. All products find customers in local markets of Chhattisgarh and other parts of the country such as Delhi, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam and Raipur, Deenanath says.
Sukhdai Maurya, a farmer from Murkuchi village in Bastar, says that she once struggled to feed her family of three children with the income she earned from farming. But becoming a part of FPO has doubled her earnings. “I implemented what I had learned during one of Bhumgadi’s workshops, and started growing wheat, maize, gram, mustard and other grains. I also learned to weigh food grains efficiently, which saved me from not getting cheated by the buyers,” she says.
Sukhdai says the overall results have helped increase her income from Rs 4,000 a month to Rs 10,000. “I no longer have to wait for weeks for payments and see immediate cash in my bank account via online payments. This is all thanks to Deenanath’s initiative,” she says.
A better life
Deenanath says that initially, the farmers were hesitant if his approach would bring them success. “They were reluctant and wanted to stick to traditional farming techniques. It took almost a year for them to see the difference and feel confident. Moreover, they did not believe in online transactions, which posed another challenge in tapping into major retailers like Slow Bazaar and Reliance,” he adds.
Deenanath says his initiative has brought much needed social impact. “The increase in profits has helped farmers improve their lifestyle. They are more confident to bargain in the market with quality products and freely express their needs to government officials,” he says.
For now, he aims to expand the benefits of his initiative to other parts of the state, and hopes that farmers of the region can compete with major brands with premium products.
Edited by Divya Sethu