The Vidarbha region in eastern Maharashtra is primarily an agrarian economy. The combination of negative factors such as drought, low yields, poor market access, dependence on money-lenders, unfair trade practices and increased input cost has left farmers burdened with debt and led to thousands of them committing suicide.
The dire situation prompted the Tata Trusts to launch the Sukhi Baliraja Initiative (SBI loosely translates to happy farmer) in 2008 in Vidarbha. Concurrently, the state government of Maharashtra initiated the Convergence of Agricultural Interventions in Maharashtra Programme (CAIM) with the support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) – and invited the Tata Trusts to participate. The SBI-CAIM programme reached out to almost 25,600 households across 320 villages in the six distressed districts of Yavatmal, Amravati, Washim, Akola, Wardha and Buldhana in Vidarbha.
SBI developed a holistic livelihood strategy for the region to reduce distress among the farming community and empower them to face production and market risks. Efforts were made to promote livelihood options through thematic interventions, with focus on the most distressed districts of Yavatmal, Amravati and Akola.
In 2015, SBI moved from partner-based programme implementation to a direct implementation mode. The thrust of the SBI programme is now on sustainable agriculture, soil and water conservation, community-based microfinance, collective agriculture marketing through community-driven farmer producer organisations, and promoting poultry, fisheries and dairy development; together this forms a livelihood basket that is offered to the communities in the region. Currently, SBI projects have a presence in nine districts.
Education, mental health and skill development are also a part of the integrated interventions. The goal is to develop resilient production methods and diversified on-farm and off-farm livelihood options for sustainable income generation, thereby enabling farmers to face production and market-related risks without falling back into poverty and distress.
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