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#RangDeIndia Telethon: How Can We Save India's Farmers During Coronavirus Pandemic?

#RangDeIndia Telethon: How Can We Save India's Farmers During Coronavirus Pandemic?

More than 80 per cent of India's farmers are small and marginal farmers, who own less than 5 acres of land. Individually, because of the size of the landholding, they are underrepresented and don't have access to a host of services such as access to affordable credit and affordable warehousing, which farmers with larger farms do. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown, fear of falling prices of food grains, drop in exports and lower demand have created a distress situation across communities of these farmers. On the other hand, marginal farmers who are getting ready for the upcoming sowing season are in urgent need of credit for inputs and for the sustenance of their own families.

Rang De and NDTV have come together and initiated a campaign #RangDeIndia to highlight the impending crisis faced by India's farmers. It is also a clarion call to ordinary citizens of India to join hands in support of these small and marginal farmers. By providing interest-free loans to farmers in distress situation, the campaign aims to ensure that they are able to take care of themselves and their families at this time of the crisis, while at the same time carry on with their farming.

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As a part of the campaign, a 2-hour special telethon was also organised to raise funds that will help reach out to these vulnerable people during this tough time of the pandemic. Experts, social workers and celebrities came together to discuss the impact of coronavirus on our farmers, who ensure that we continue to have food on our table, and how everyone can come together and make sure that the farmer's family does not go hungry.

Joining the telethon with NDTV's Dr Prannoy Roy, Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu, Founder & Executive Director at the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture highlighted how the beginning of the lockdown affected the harvest season for the farmers and the challenges faced by them, he said,

Farmers are in deep crisis. We see daily that a number of migrants are on the road who are part of the rural economy. About 54.6 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture and 87 per cent are small and marginal who hold land less than 2 hectares. The income of an average farmer is 8,931 per month. The lockdown has affected this income by about 60 per cent.

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Further talking about the crisis that the farmers are facing, Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu added, 

Some farmers were unable to sell their produce as transport was affected in the lockdown due to coronavirus. Particularly fresh vegetables and fruit sector have been affected significantly in this time. Many farmers are landless and they take land on lease for which they pay high interests.

Dr. Nachiket Mor, PhD, Visiting Scientist, The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health stressed on the fact that our farmers are in distress, given the situation today. Explaining the term ‘peer to peer lending' which is a relatively a new concept in India, Dr. Nachiket Mor said,

What is happening with your money and how is the money being spent is an important component of peer to peer lending. In a regular lending context, you are looking at the lowest risk borrowing. In the peer to peer lending, you are looking for those who are most needy and bridge a gap by allowing farmers and those who are in distress to do something new with mentorship and support. Using technology to ensure transparency in peer to peer lending, one can actually see the individual and you can help that individual directly, not just with money but also with an idea or skill that you have and want to help them with.

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Vinita Bali, Former CEO & MD, Britannia Industries Ltd talking about the role of social investments for India's farmers said,

I think the biggest attractive feature of social investment is that it is not impersonal, it is very personal and you can put a face to the situation you want to change. It will bring the habit of giving. It involves civil society in a  very easy way. I just have to write a cheque to Rang de or transfer money. It is easy to help those who feed us. It is a brilliant way of connecting and getting more and more people involved in the whole act of contributing and helping those in need.

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Vikas Khanna, Chef, restaurateur, cookbook writer & humanitarian too joined the #RangDeIndia telethon and added,

We are buying rations directly from farmers, this is the direct relief as they are getting the money directly which is very essential at this point of time as they are not able to sell their produce because of the lockdown.

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Kavish Seth, Poet, Singer & Songwriter talking about the crisis India's farmers are facing today amid the coronavirus and lockdown said,

I wasn't really aware earlier but after lockdown when I started cooking myself, I started wondering where are these people who are growing vegetables and food grains. I realised how much far we are from our farmers. I personally don't know any farmers. But initiatives like Rang De helps us to know them personally.

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Highlighting how everyone can help support the one who provides us with food - our farmers, Adil Hussain, Actor added,

I know how difficult it is to produce something from the soil. What has distressed me the most is the distress faced by the farmers, farmers suicide and how we have accepted this. When I came to know about Rang de India, I got to know how one can help the farmers as these people are the heroes. Helping farmers is extremely important. I have not been able to do anything due to the lockdown sitting in Delhi but through such initiative, we can bring a change. We all must come forward and invest whatever amount we can. It is a sacred responsibility.

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Talking about the Rang De India model and how it plans to reach out to the farmers, Ram NK, Co-Founder & MD, Rang De said,

In 2006, we wanted to come back to India and do something for society. We noticed that the credit was very very expensive and we narrowed down to building a platform that can ease borrowing for the needy. At Rang De, we partner with an organisation who help us reach the farmers and we transfer the money int he bank accounts of the farmers. You can also see how your money is being spent and who is being helped in a  very transparent way.

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Thanking India's farmers for their hard-work, Shruti Haasan, Actor at the #RangDeIndia telethon said,

It is extremely important that we take time out from our lives to help those in need, be it the migrant workers or farmers or anybody.

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Pankaj Tripathi, Actor also joined the telethon and stressed how we as a community should come together and ensure that our farmers are able to take care of themselves and their families in this tough time, he said,

Seasonal problem is very high for farmers, like in my village itself, there are farmers who have faced high rainfall because of which wheat got rotten in the farm itself. It is very important for all of us who can help support these vulnerable people.

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Abhijit Banerjee, Nobel Laureate in Economics stressed on the fact that the farmers need a good support system and added,

As far as relief measures are concerned,  I think the government should have gone further because a lot of people who rely on agriculture are not recognised as farmers. So identifying only farmers will not be enough. Middle-class rural India has fallen into poverty. If you try to target you will miss the most affected. We have a massive number of migrants and they need social support. It is not their fault that the lockdown is in place. We can only hope that it becomes a positive turning point and things improve from here.

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COVID-19 remains a health emergency and a deadly threat, especially to the most vulnerable. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been responding to the global pandemic since it began. MSF doctors and nurses are treating patients and supporting communities across Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia.

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