Last week, As a part of the Rang De field trip, I visited a tribal village situated in Tamil Nadu along with my teammate. The journey started in the early wee hours from Kochi. We reached Salem by afternoon. The heat was ravishing and dry. Another 70 km to our destination. We were headed to a remote and pristine region named The Sittilingi Valley. A village situated in the womb of Kalvayaran hill range.
A journey to the rural abodes of India
The road journey was exquisite. Hills and meadows covered the sight. As the miles racked up on the odometer, we saw ourselves retiring to a rural setting. The roads became narrower, and houses turned from cemented to thatched ones. Modes of transport changed from private cars to public transport. As we ventured deeper into the region, a quiet settled in. We made it to Sittilingy in the evening that day. It felt calm and distant. Exhausted from the travel I crashed early. The next morning was eagerly awaited.
Rang De’s intervention at ground level
Sititlingi Valley is home to many tribal communities. People engage in organic farming, cattle rearing, retail agri-business, handloom, hunting, etc.
We set out to know the community up close. Our first visit was to an SHG meeting that was taking place in a nearby village. Women in tightly-knit neighbourhoods formed groups and met every month to discuss finances.
We were intrigued to know the working of such a group. It was done in a very formal manner. There were records kept, decisions made and documentation done. With no banks in the region, these women groups have to lend to each other for their needs. They used credit for marriages, baby showers, buying cattle, or building a roof. Lending within the group prevents them from being exploited. The interest charged per 100 rupees was 1 rupee. ‘E-shakti’ an initiative by NABARD was being used to maintain soft copies. SOFA officials were trained by the Rang De team to embed software support. There are countless SHGs spread within the communities and it is difficult to make the changes when needed. One has to travel extensively to make corrections. Also, record books bear the risk of being spoilt. To keep the data safe, digital intervention is highly needed. Apart from that, Rang De has been supporting Organic turmeric farmers in the region for the last four years. They have enabled countless farmers with interest-free loans which were used in mulching, harvesting, post-processing costs, and transportation. Turmeric is the cash crop in the valley and drives the livelihood of people. The turmeric grown in Sittilingi is the ‘Eroor variety’, one with the highest curcumin content in India. The crop grown here has an NPOP certification (National program for organic production) and is exported globally. We could see gold dust all over the SOFA plant and felt the spice in the air.
The real picture on the ground
Next, we were off to meet some Rang De Investees. Our first meeting was with Ramayee. An aged woman with sheer determination. She spoke her heart out. She has been farming on her 2.5 acres of land for her entire life. Her belief is whatever she grows on the farm should be consumed at the table. Food is rarely to be bought from outside. Rang De Social Investors backed her during the pandemic with an interest-free loan. She is happy that during the toughest time in her life she wasn't left alone.
Chinna Thambi’s story is close to my heart. He lives in ‘Moola Sittilingi’.
‘Moola’ roughly translates to the far end, which implies he lives at the distant end of an already remote place. We came around his humble abode. It was 5 pm in the evening. He was ploughing his field with his son. I didn’t expect him to recognize me. We had barely spoken for thirty minutes on a blurry zoom call, two years ago. But the moment we saw each other we smiled our cheeks wide.
He showed me around his farm, cattle shed, and house. He pulled out bees from a box to show the honey cultivation he did. The goats he had, at least 18-20 of them brought lucrative income. He had diversified his livelihood options over the years on a quest to become sustainable. There was one thing in common between both the investees I met. They work day in and day out. Be it Ramayee who has known farming all her life or Chinna Thambi’s family who has been doing it for decades. They break their backs from dusk till dawn and have been doing it diligently for years. There’s no other way of life for them. Farming is everything. Rang De Social Investors played a key role in the hardest times of their life. The community sustained the pandemic and now looks forward to good times. The Rang De field trips have been always a fulfilling experience. It reveals what it means to be a Rang De Social Investor. I personally am one and find it lucky to see the impact firsthand and share it with you. If you’ve been investing with us and want to meet your investees, you can leave me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org