Vegetable farming in Raigad district in Maharashtra
Consider the case of 57-year-old Abdul Gaffar Rahatvilkar, who used to be an oil rig worker in Kuwait. He returned to his village in Raigad, learnt innovative farming techniques at Swades and today reaps a lush crop of beans from his small farm. He now mobilises fellow farmers to adopt farming techniques that provide lucrative output in smaller plot sizes. Like him, 27,086 farmers have learnt to implement new farming technologies to enhance yields at low costs through Swades. All in all, Swades’ interventions have benefitted over 550,000 people thus far.
“It’s been a challenging journey,” says Screwvala. Their very first task was to create a professional team which could run Swades like a corporation and not an NGO. Since its inception, Swades has trained over 1,000 community volunteers and over 300 full-time staffers to work at the grassroots. Building trust with the community was another challenge, especially as the Swades model entails that each beneficiary household buys in to the project with a small monthly amount. But the toughest task remains to create projects with a sustained, permanent impact. “Our strategy is to hand over a project to the community only after every household agrees to contribute a monthly amount towards the maintenance and the community forms a special committee to operate and maintain it,” he says.
Developing community heroes, people who have used their training with Swades to motivate, enable and empower others, is a conscious effort in this direction. Also, Swades has identified 300 “dream villages” — communities they hope will soon become independent and self-sustaining, allowing them to exit.
Swades works on an initial endowment made by the Screwvalas and individual, corporate and institutional donors. Tata Trusts is a major funding partner. Others include Australian Aid, Oracle, ONGC and IL&FS. The Foundation matches each donation made by its partners. Future plans include expanding to other districts (they have already started working in Nashik). However, they already spend between Rs 120 and 130 crore per annum, necessitating an ongoing search for more partnerships. “We also want to document our impact,” says Screwvala, “in order to refine our model and make it easily replicable.”
Meanwhile, Manali Sawant, a Swades hero, has set up her village’s first vermicomposting unit and has a ready-made market within her community. Young widow Vidya Kule has become a community health worker at Swades and ensures her community gets the medical treatment they need. Among the million people Swades aims to lift out of poverty in five years, they show that Gandhi’s dream of Swades can still be realised, one dream village at a time.
To learn more, visit swadesfoundation.org or follow their YouTube channel