Moved by the plight of a farmer who made it to the ‘hot seat’ of game show “Kaun Banega Crorepati”, Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who is doing his bit to help the farmer community, has urged the public to step forward and help pay off their loans.
A farmer named Anantkumar Khanke made it to the show, and spoke about his struggle to survive. This led Amitabh Bachchan to urge people to come forth and help the farmers in whatever way possible.
Khanke said his annual income is around Rs 60,000 if they face a good rainy season. When there is a shortage of water, he pays Rs 100 per gallon for farming.
Big B, who himself does a lot for the farmers in his own way, narrated an incident which sensitised him to the farmers’ plight, read a statement.
He narrated: “When I was shooting in Visakhapatnam around a decade back, I read in the newspaper then, that farmers are committing suicide for amounts like Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000. I felt very bad reading this. When I came back, I contacted an NGO here and asked them if I could be of any help in saving the lives of farmers and that’s how I got a list of 30-40 people whose loans I could pay off.
“A few years ago, there was distress in Vidarbha due to shortage of rainfall and I cleared loans of around 100 farmers and recently in Maharashtra, I have ensured that the loans of around 360 farmers have been paid off to the banks. My next step is to help clear loans of approximately 850 farmers in Uttar Pradesh.”
He said that by mentioning this, he is hopeful that even if around 10 or 12 people, who find it within their capacity and capability, step forward and help in saving the lives of farmers, they would have “set an example for many more and in turn so many farmers’ lives would be saved”.
“I would urge people to understand the plight of our ‘anna-data’ (farmers) and the kind of hardships they are facing. I do not want to boast about myself but I want everyone to help our farmers who face the shortage of even having basic necessities.
“If anyone of you, individually or collectively can pay off their loans, I join my hands to request you to please help them. This will be the biggest contribution you can make to the farmers of our country.”
“Kaun Banega Crorepati” is aired on Sony Entertainment Television. (IANS)
Mark Sultan Gersava grew up in poverty, one of 12 children of a slash-and-burn subsistence farmer in the Philippines province of Sultan Kudarat.
Today he is the “chief executive farmer” of a company aimed at tackling that same poverty, and combating climate change at the same time.
His firm Bambuhay helps farmers shift from slash-and-burn agriculture – which accounts for about a third of deforestation in the Philippines – to growing bamboo, now in demand as an alternative material to throw-away plastic.
The company, now in its second year of operation, makes popular bamboo straws, toothbrushes, tumblers, and bamboo-based charcoal briquettes, to replace those made from wood.
So far Bambuhay has sold nearly 400,000 reuseable bamboo straws, Gersava said.
In late October, wearing a bamboo salakót, a traditional farmers hat, he told delegates to the One Young World conference of youth leaders in London what drove him to launch his company.
“In the span of one year, I experienced two super typhoons (and) the hottest measured temperature in Philippines history,” Gersava said.
“This was the first time I had faced the direct consequences of climate change,” he said.
Less Poverty, Fewer Emissions
Gersava settled on bamboo – a fast-growing plant that absorbs large amounts of climate-changing carbon dioxide and can help prevent soil erosion – as a way of taking action on both climate change and poverty.
The Philippines climate, he said, is perfect for growing the giant grass and has helped poor farmers “become agri-preneurs.”
The effort has helped cut extreme poverty for thousands of farmers so far, he says.
“Bamboo is a symbol of poverty in the Philippines. If you live in a bamboo house, you’re very poor – that’s basically how it was before,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But bamboo now has gained a lot of good attention since I started the company,” he said.
Bambuhay has partnered with the Philippines government and farmers to replant 540 hectares (1,340 acres) of deforested land through the company’s Bamboo AgroForestry Program, Gersava said.
Just how versatile bamboo fibre can be was evident in the entrepreneur’s own attire at the conference, including a sleek bamboo wallet and his cone-shaped hat, a golden salakót.
Such hats are usually made from reeds, but his was produced by farmers from bamboo – a gift in gratitude for his help in pulling them out of poverty, he said.
“When I wear this hat, I feel connected to the farmers. They are the one who are left behind,” Gersava said.
“They are the most important people that we that we need to protect. … We need to value these people more.”
Last year, Gersava sold his condominium, quit his job and with no formal business training and just $2,000 in start-up funds launched Bambuhay, his social enterprise.
“It’s very hard to start a business in the Philippines,” he said.
“There’s no support from the government, you have very limited funding. … I started with only one person.”
Now Gersava employs 17 full-time staff. He says as CEO his aim is not to become rich but to ensure much of what the company earns passes to its farmers.
Still, in addition to helping farmers, he’s been able to help pay college fees for his two nieces and support his siblings and parents, he said.
He says his work is far from done. By 2030, he aims for his company to have helped establish 1 billion bamboo plants and to have lifted 100,000 farmers out of poverty, especially in extremely poor areas such as his hometown and the province of Sulu.
Growing up in an impoverished family in Sultan Kudarat, he said, has given him a deep understanding of who pays the highest price as climate change impacts, from floods and droughts to heatwaves and storms, intensify.
“The wealthy CEOs and politicians are not the ones suffering the most from the consequences of climate change. It is the rural villager,” he said.
“It is the struggling farmers who are suffering from severe water shortages and droughts that will be the worst hit by food insecurity,” he predicted.