A visit to a school gathering in Ahmednagar district in 1978 gave birth to the grand initiative by city-based entrepreneur couple Yashwant and Smita Ghaisas. The duo used to visit a hostel called Vanawasi Ashram at Akola every year for the annual gathering. We noticed that despite the good education the students received at the hostel,there wasnt a remarkable improvement in their living standards after they left the school. Most of them were ashamed of working on their land and the ones who migrated to cities,couldnt get decent jobs, says Yashwant. In order to empower the tribals with an improved economic situation by developing their agriculture status,the social trust called Suyash Charitable Trust (SCT) was formed in 1982.
A number of trained and well-paid volunteers were placed in various villages to work with the farmers. From demonstrating effective agricultural practices like water storage to helping the tribal farmers financially in buying good seeds,fertilisers and pesticides,the representatives of SCT helped the farmers improve their production and their financial status. Between 1990 and 2005,the Trust covered four states,namely Orissa,Chhattisgarh,Vidarbha-Maharashtra and Rajasthan that included more than 200 small hutments. Currently,the Trust has empowered 25,000 families with a minimum income of Rs 36,000 per annum. These families are spread across 728 villages in the above mentioned states. As of now,there are over 1000 tribal volunteers working for the project. This year we aim to reach up to 50,000 tribal families, says Yashwant. The main aim of the Trust is to make the tribals self-sufficient,he stresses.
The income level of each family was monitored. It was not related to poverty line,but to family needs. Since each family was earning enough food from their own marginal land for the year,there was no migration. They were trained to take both Kharip and Rabbi to get additional income to meet other needs of their families,” explains Smita.
Through these three decades,the complete financial needs of the trust were provided by Yashprabha Group of Companies. We could implement all programmes strictly on schedules as we did not depend on fund collection or on help from the government, says Smita.
While giving advice on improved agriculture,Suyash Trust developed a basic model and assessed the profitability like that of an industry. These models were incorporated in many tribal villages of Maharashtra,namely Nasik,Thane and Raigarh districts.
It was quite a challenge to change the mentality of the tribal farmers and make them understand that whatever financial help they received from trust was in the form of an interest-free loan and should be returned after getting good yields. However,the recovery without any stress was more than 90 per cent. This was a major mental change especially when all political parties and the government were pressing for subsidies or non-returnable attractive gifts. Hence there was a tendency to not even return loans taken from banks. We had to really fight this mentality to make the tribals self-sufficient, Yashwant concludes.