When Successive Failures in Agriculture Drive People Away From Farms in Rural Karnataka

January 9, 2017
By Rang De Team
Mysore district in Karnataka is famous for a strong agricultural economy with principal crops being paddy, sugarcane, tobacco, mulberry and horticulture

We set out from Bangalore city railway station on a crisp winter morning. Cyclone Vardha made it more wintry, leaving us wondering if the rains would hamper our meeting with borrowers around Mysore city.

But as the train chugged along, our attention drifted to vast fields of paddy, sugarcane and tobacco that rolled outside the window. We were heading towards a region historically rich in farming with Kaveri nourishing its soil.

On a quarterly audit of our working with Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM), we met borrowers who have availed Rang De loans for agriculture, animal husbandry and a host of small businesses.

Till date, we have extended over 2,200 loans to members of self-help-groups (SHGs) that SVYM helps build in nearly 135 villages around Mysore.

The audit gives us data about the impact that micro-loans have had in the lives of borrowers. It also helps us recognise patterns of macro-economic conditions and the many underlying realities that fuel it.

The Karnataka state government declared 136 taluks in Karnataka as drought-hit in 2016 claiming it to be the most severe in over 40 years. The distress was evident in our interaction with the farming community near Hunsur.

Distress from agriculture is rampant with many leading a hand to mouth existence

Srinivasa Kempanayaka is a 48-year-old farmer who availed a Rang De loan in June 2016 to cultivate bananas. These funds provided by individuals helped him purchase fertilisers and hire a water motor. However, with little rains this season, his harvest was below expectation and all he gained was Rs 15,000.

There were many people who informed us about having incurred losses on paddy cultivation. Many more complained about their ragi crop never even sprouting due to a lack of water and moisture in the soil.

Growing tobacco, a principal cash crop in the region, has its own challenges. Tobacco requires a high outlay of capital for growing and processing but there exists an acute lack of access to agricultural credit. Selling tobacco too is difficult as red tape mandates sellers to hold a license. This calls for payment of a fixed commission to tobacco license holders who add no value whatsoever in the supply chain.

Most of these farmers are getting by working as agricultural labourers in bigger farms and doing other small jobs.

Some have attempted to supplement their income by undertaking dairy farming and goat rearing while retaining ties to their farmland. We have lent nearly 300 loans for animal husbandry through SVYM.

However, a number of people, especially the youth, display a clear departure from agriculture — an occupation that they believe is no longer rewarding. Taking to small businesses that at least offer a regular income, agriculture is practiced more to subsist than to profit.

Kumara Mudligowda did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a farmer

Kumara Mudligowda’s father has been a farmer all his life. Years of mediocrity prompted Kumara to step away from this path and setup a business that offers shamianas, music systems, seating etc for marriages and other events. Crowdfunded Rang De loans amounting to Rs 35,000 helped him grow his business and earn a gross income of around Rs 2 lakhs each year.

It is not uncommon for many borrowers who avail Rang De loans to switch professions in order to try and get a steady and respectable income

Ramesh Govindegowda has a small farm where he still cultivates sugar cane. But his focus now is on running a small bakery in the town. He availed a micro-loan that social investors contributed to on our platform to purchase a cow, which now supplies him with milk for the tea and coffee that he serves his customers.

As agriculture becomes increasingly difficult, there is a marked shift to other means of livelihood. By raising funds for small businesses, the Rang De family (numbering over 10,000+ social investors) are keen to enable any sustainable alternative that lifts people out of poverty and the helplessness that is becoming typical of agriculture.

Our train ride that morning allowed us to see the diversity of south India — the views changed from urban landscapes to rural greens. But the question is if our journey as a people is rapidly going in the opposite direction.

If yes, where do we go from here?

Help struggling but faithful farmers as well as enterprising small businesses around Mysore by joining us as social investors.

Impact team members Thrishika and Sonali visited SVYM in December 2016.

We regularly carry out field trips to ensure that Rang De loans are making the desired impact on the poor communities that we seek to empower. You can see the upcoming field trips on our Field Trip calendar and join us or you can sign up for audio evaluations by filling up a form here.

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