Vidarbha is the worst place in the nation to be a farmer.
– P. Sainath, The Hindu (November 14, 2007)
Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in this rain-fed region of Maharashtra over the last decade. Can we, from the comfort of our home, do something to help the debt-ridden farmer whose crops fail him? Microspin Machine Works’ ‘Crafted Yarn’ certainly hopes to do so. Spun, dyed, and woven by the farmers in the region who also grow the cotton, the fabrics represent hope for the people of Vidarbha.
Incubated out of IIT Madras, Microspin’s journey to Maharashtra began three years ago when Kannan L., the CEO and director, happened to meet the head of a credit cooperative from Buldhana district. As a result of their collaboration, the company’s small-scale unit, that produces yarn from cotton, travelled to Vidarbha. “We set up our factory in a warehouse that was used to store agricultural produce,” says Kannan.
Soon, word of the factory spread to the surrounding villages. Today, 100 men and women work there, churning out fabric from the cotton grown on their lands. Most of them farmers, their jobs at the factory provide regular income as opposed to agriculture, which is a seasonal affair. Kannan says that they are busy for two months a year during the harvest season; at this time, they juggle work at the farm and the factory, since their jobs give them the option of working in shifts.
“They work on their fields for two hours early in the morning and then come to the factory,” explains Hemamalini J., manager - HR and admin. According to Microspin, when you shop for cotton textiles, for every Rs. 100 that you spend, less than Rs. 5 goes to the farmer. Their initiative aims to help the farmer earn more and “save enough to put into agriculture,” says Kannan.
Initially though, he admits that it was not easy to get a man of the soil to work for fixed hours. “Work hours are flexible on his farm. He can afford to take a nap for a few hours, come and go as he pleases… But at the factory, he has to be present at the time of his shift,” says Kannan.
But as outsiders, he says they were able to create a smooth working culture. “If a worker performed well, we make sure he/she is rewarded in cash or in kind in front of everyone else,” explains Kannan. In Vidarbha, where there are little or no job opportunities, the regular flow of income gradually changed the lives of the people.
“In terms of social dynamics, we observed a lot of interesting aspects,” says Kannan. There was a change in the attitude of the people; the job opportunity gave them a sense of accomplishment. Young men who always dreamed of riding a bike confidently applied for loans; couples in love, whose families were against them getting married, tied the knot with the consent of their elders since they now held jobs.
Microspin is now setting up a factory in Bangalore. They are also foraying into garment manufacturing and talks are on with Madura Garments for the process. They are testing the waters with white shirts that are now available for order online. “This field is completely new to us,” admits Kannan. “It’s as if those who manufacture stoves are entering a restaurant business.” But as a start, they are selling their shirts and fabrics at an exhibition in Chennai. The fabric is midway between thick khadi and fine linen — Microspin claims to use biodegradable ingredients in its bleaching and scouring process.
Kannan says that they have plans to sell their clothes in boutiques and big stores at a price that benefits the farmer. The government and private agencies are presently carrying out various relief measures to help the farmers of Vidarbha; Kannan adds that this is their way of “contributing to the farmer”. For, a shirt or a length of fabric we buy may make all the difference to the man who spends the most part of his life praying for the rains.
Crafted Yarn is being introduced at Mini Hall 2, CP Art Centre, Alwarpet, today, between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.