I was in Yeotmal for a couple of days interacting with retailers, wholesalers, and farmers as part of my project. The first day was spent in the urban areas. We stayed in a hotel called Revathi Pride. A decent hotel providing average customer service.Yeotmal is ninety seven kilometers from Amravati. It has a metre gauge railway line which reminded me of the lovely one coach train that used to stop at Sagar, my Mom's hometown.
Yeotmal is considered to be the place where cotton was first cultivated. Hence it is called as the cotton city. The city, like Amravati had several two wheeler showrooms. The absence of good public transport system for intra-city travel has given rise to this demand for two-wheelers. While the government gives away free bicycles to girls in villages, the girls in these towns can be seen travelling in two wheelers. This practice will only grow. Hoardings around the town were mainly about educational institutes. Advertisements on local channels were also dominated by these institutes which offered the traditional engineering courses. Institutes offering "new-age" courses in advertising, media were also present. Organised retail is absent here. Similar was the case in Akola. Kirana stores still dominate the scene. I think organized retail has a chance here. The buying habits of consumers, atleast in case of tur dal and chana dal, were seen to favour bulk buying. And price does play an important factor. Big Bazaar which is to commence operations in Amravati, will find it a good market.
The first day involved interacting with the wholesalers and the retailers. I was looking forward to the second day. This was to involve travelling to villages, and visiting haats. I was accompanied by the founder of Dilaasa, an NGO which is working in the villages of Yeotmal. We went to Ghatanji block and visited the haat. A haat is the weekly market which is set up on the road. Livestock to foodgrains, accessories to cosmetics everything is sold in these haats. Most of the times, one haat caters to four to five villages. My purpose was to investigate the presence of lakh ( a dal which is subsitituted for tur as it costs less). This dal, till last year was banned as it was seen to cause paralysis when consumed in large numbers. However this was consumed in rural areas of Chandrapur and Gadhchiroli without any cases of paralysis. After tests, this ban was lifted last year.
After visiting the haat, we headed to a village called in Ralegaon block of Yeotmal. We conducted a focused group discussion of around 10 farmers. It reminded me of my days in Toranmal. The fieldwork segment held me in good stead and the discussion went smoothly. The two month stay in Toranmal had made me more confident while interacting with farmers. Though I can never become one of them, the confidence that I usually display while presenting projects in IRMA, was displayed while asking questions and prompting honest answers from the farmers. This made me very happy.
Every village has that one farmer who is interested in what you are saying. Someone who is ready to take on the mantle to start the project. He is not the scheming rich farmer. Nor the rich trader of the village. He is educated and has seen his fair share of crop failures. He has seen many projects come and go without affecting the intended "beneficiaries". I was fortunate to meet such a farmer. He was interested in our discussion. He participated actively. And more importantly he was brutally honest.
As I took leave, he approached me and asked about the probability of starting a dal mill in Ralegaon district. I looked at him and told him that it was not in my hands. I have said that many times whenever I have stepped into a village for collecting data. I am waiting for the day when I will be able to take decisions which will have a positive impact on the villagers.
As we left the village and headed back to Yeotmal, I could see acres of land all ready for the rains. Some farmers were already sowing cotton seeds. Some were gazing at the sky;probably praying for a normal monsoon. I wish farming was as therapeutic as Farmville on FB is!
Came back to the hotel and saw DCH! After Kites, Rajneeti and Ravan, this was a refreshing change. Though India losing the dead rubber was a disappointment, the rural visit overshadowed the Indian loss.
Next stop was Wardha……which houses Sevagram, where the Mahatma lived! But that deserves a separate post.