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Sophomore Vaddi Vikram Raj says his nonprofit ‘Mālama’ seeks to help India’s underappreciated farmers

Illustration of a farmer plowing a field with words in the sky that read "If you ate today ... Thank a Farmer."

In a self-described quest to give back to the ones who provided him with food and life lessons, Vaddi Vikram Raj, a sophomore from India majoring in accounting, has set out to create “Mālama.” Now in its infancy, the nonprofit passion project of Raj seeks to sell goods, beginning with T-shirts, he said, and giving the proceeds to struggling farmers in India.

Raj, along with the help of several friends, hopes farmers will gain the respect and reward they deserve for their hard work. Mālama is Hawaiian, and Raj added it means “to take care of, care for, protect, beware, preserve, maintain, support and serve.”

According to Raj, who grew up in Kakinada, a large city in Southern India, farmers in his home country suffer many trials, trials that have led to the loss of their land and even suicide.

“Once upon a time, 80 percent of India’s GDP came from farming. The middlemen and the government are making life harder for farmers all the time. Other factors like climate change, droughts and heavy rainfall, along with what I mentioned earlier, are why a lot of farmers are killing themselves, often by ingesting pesticides.”

According to a Washington Post article about Indian farmer suicides, almost 60,000 farmers have taken their lives between 1987 and 2017. These deaths have been attributed to farmers feeling hopeless about their situation amidst staggering debt, floods and incompetent politicians, said Raj.

Raj’s friend Juri Vinay, a junior majoring in marketing from India, added how Mālama’s goal was to help farmers’ children to get good educations, use machines for high production and use fewer pesticides.

“I’m from a farmer’s family. My father is still a farmer. Our cotton crop was heavily affected [months ago] with continuously heavy rain. Most of the cotton became black with heavy rain.

“It is so important to respect farmers because thanks to them, we can live on earth. They are life for us. Without them, we can’t even survive. Sometimes, I would even go out to help on farms. This taught me the value of hard work, even if I had an easier life than most. Anytime you look at your food, remember it came from a hard-working farmer.”

According to Raj, “The first thing is to help farmers who lost their land and farmers’ families who have lost their loved ones to suicide. The goal is to help those people who are suffering first. We hope to do some welfare for them, such as providing groceries and helping them get some proper farming equipment.”

Dharavath Manoj Kumar, Raj’s business associate and friend who is also from India, shared, “The motto of Mālama is to help farmers to become debtless, able to face natural calamities and able to provide good education to their children.

“[Also,] help them to use machines for speed cultivation, not to become laborers instead of owners, to stop migration from village to cities, get a good market price to their crop and to encourage the younger generation to become farmers.”

According to Raj, a significant issue for Indian farmers is high-interest loans. The money lenders will fix a rate and the middleman will sell for high interest to the farmers. Often, the interest is so high the farmers cannot pay the money back.

Protecting farmers was the priority for Mālama, said Raj, and desires for rewards or money are second. When he studied in school growing up, many of his friends came from farm families. Several of their parents committed suicide due to staggering debt and having no relief.

“My friend would call his father every day in school,because he believed the risk of losing his father to suicide was that great,” Raj emphasized. “We need to support farmers wherever they are because they provide us with food and living.”