Amidst farm suicides, a gold rush in blogs

Akshay Raskar, who lives in Kolgaon, started blogging over a decade back. He is now a role model in the village
Akshay Raskar, who lives in Kolgaon, started blogging over a decade back. He is now a role model in the village


  • In a village in Marathwada, a region rife with farm suicides, hundreds are making a living off blogging
  • Kolgaon in Maharashtra has emerged as a ‘bloggers village’. Hundreds of people here have taken to blogging. Some make more money compared to what others make from farming.

About 10 years ago, Akshay Raskar, 34, received an SMS that changed his life. He was sitting in his small electronics store, fiddling with the stock, when his mobile phone beeped. $222 had been credited to his account. “I wasn’t expecting any money," he said. “Definitely not in dollars. It took me a while to figure out what it was for."

The payment was from YouTube for a video he had uploaded about three years ago.

Nearly 300 kilometers from his village of Kolgaon in Maharashtra’s Beed district, Raskar, in 2009, had visited a village in Nashik where he stumbled upon a farmer unconventionally plowing his farm. The farmer had attached a plow to the back of his bike.

Raskar was amused. He took out his smartphone and shot the video for fun. With a caption that said The Great Indian Jugaad, he put it up on YouTube and forgot all about it.

Akshay Raskar’s workplace
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Akshay Raskar’s workplace

The video went viral. Today, it has garnered just under six million views. But it served its purpose long ago. Sometime in 2012, Raskar received the dollars mentioned above in his account, which set him on a path nobody in his village had traversed (YouTube pays its content creators a certain sum based on views. The sum depends on not just the number of views but also the region from where the views come).

“That was the first time I thought of the internet as a legitimate source of income," he said.

Born in a poor farmer family in the agrarian region of Marathwada, Raskar didn’t know what he wanted to do. However, he knew what he didn’t want to do: farming.

Ever since he could remember, Raskar had seen his parents struggling with their farmland, often reeling under the stress of debt. “I didn’t want to inherit that," he said. “I was always thinking about a business I could do."

In his early 20s, he set up a mobile and electronics shop in his village, which hadn’t taken off. It didn’t have to. The $222 had been credited to his account just in time.

“I thought about how I can use the internet to make money," Raskar recalled. “I was too shy to be in front of the camera. I would get conscious. The smartphones in those days didn’t have great cameras either. So, YouTube was out of the question."

He explored if there was a text-based medium that could be his livelihood, which is when he discovered blogging. “I watched dozens of videos on YouTube to understand how it worked," said Raskar. “And I started blogging even as I ran my mobile shop. I learnt on the go. Three months into it, I got $112. It wasn’t a lot. But it made me stick with it."

Over 10 years later, Raskar runs eight blogs—all in Marathi. Among the popular ones are ‘Krushi News’ or agricultural news and ‘Sarkari News’ or government news. One of his recent posts told farmers ‘what to watch out for while buying farmland’—a headline the mainstream media would love to carry. Raskar employs a team of 30 youngsters, and claims to generate a monthly revenue of around $50,000, or over 40 lakh. It allows him to pay handsome salaries to his employees, whom he has taught blogging. He has inspired several others in his village—Kolgaon has hundreds of bloggers today whose posts are now read all across Maharashtra. They write on a range of themes. While farmer issues appear to be a common thread, there are those who blog on labour, sports, loans, and entrance tests such as the civil services examination.

Jobs and crops

But the journey wasn’t easy. It took perseverance, determination and unwavering faith. “People often made fun of me," he recalled. “They would laugh at me when I said the internet pays you for your work. I don’t blame them. Very few people in rural areas were aware of it back then. But I was confident."

Saurabh Londhe, a blogger, purchased a sports bike worth  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>2 lakh
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Saurabh Londhe, a blogger, purchased a sports bike worth 2 lakh

When Raskar decided to get into it, he had to choose an area to focus on. He looked around, and only saw farmers—which made him realize his blog had to cater to that audience. “Several farmers often complained about not being aware of government schemes," he said. “By the time the farmers got to know of it, the deadline would have passed and they wouldn’t be able to avail any benefits."

Therefore, Raskar started simplifying government orders that were written in complicated language and uploaded it on his blog. “I also included the promises political leaders made to farmers in their speeches and visits," he said. “The growth was alright in the first three years. Not many people had access to the internet in rural areas at the time. But my blog took off after 2015."

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Digital India, a campaign to improve online infrastructure and internet connectivity, especially in rural areas, where 70% of India’s population lives. India’s internet penetration at the time stood at 15%. Eight years on, it has risen exponentially to 47%.

In terms of absolute numbers, India has 692 million active internet users, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) report of 2022. About 351 million out of them are in rural areas. 2022 was the first year when active internet users in the hinterland outnumbered the ones in cities.

More and more people downloaded WhatsApp and Facebook on their mobile phones in Kolgaon, too, making it easier for Raskar to circulate his blog.

“Farmers started finding my blog extremely helpful," he said. “So, I expanded. Today, I also blog about possible job openings, crop loans, home loans and so on. On an average, I get 30 lakh viewers per day. The more traffic the blogs get, the more advertisements Google sends my way. That’s how we generate revenue."

An iPhone and a bike

Raskar’s entrepreneurship has changed the face of the village. It has emerged as a ‘bloggers village’, where evening discussions, in its lanes and by-lanes, largely revolve around who made how much money.

The hundreds of bloggers he has inspired now earn a respectable amount of money. “They make at least 50,000 a month," Raskar said. “Every member of my team earns around 1 lakh per month."

Two of them are Aditya Patil and Saurabh Londhe, aged 19 and 20, children of farmers struggling in poverty. Their parents had slogged day in and day out to ensure the kids study further after school. And then, came the covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Aditya Patil recently bought an iPhone 14
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Aditya Patil recently bought an iPhone 14

“We were studying in Aurangabad at the time," said Patil. “We managed to get back to our village three or four months after the lockdown."

Back then, both of them wanted to pursue medicine as a profession and were preparing for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) at a private tuition centre in that city. NEET is a test for admission to the undergraduate medical courses.

Because of covid-19, Patil couldn’t concentrate on his studies. “There was a lot of anxiety, loss and destruction around us," he said. “I spent my time watching movies, TV serials and playing video games. When the exams arrived, I knew I wouldn’t do well."

Around the same time, Patil and Londhe met Raskar. He explained blogging to them and they were on board. “We just followed his lead," said Londhe. “He taught us everything from scratch after we joined his team. Had it not been for the lockdown, we would have never met Raskar."

Three years on, Patil and Londhe have both paid off their parents’ farm loan. Patil even bought an iPhone 14, and Londhe purchased a sports bike worth 2 lakh.

“I have never seen my parents as relieved and at peace," said Patil. “For the first time in their life, they have money at home. They don’t have to depend on the farmland to ensure two meals a day."

Patil said his parents feel incredibly proud of him, especially when relatives call him up and ask him to take their kids under his wing. He has also been covered by the local media in Beed.

But both Patil and Londhe understand that they can’t afford to be complacent.

“We are now studying for a bachelor’s degree in computer science," said Londhe. “It will help us in the field of blogging. We want to expand, and maybe start our blogs in Hindi and English. We feel like the sky’s the limit for us. Never thought we would get to this stage. Growing up, we only saw poverty around us."

Raskar’s home

The agrarian region of Marathwada, in which Kolgaon falls, has emerged as a hotbed of farm suicides in Maharashtra over the past 15 years. In 2022, 1,023 farmers reportedly died by suicide in the region, at the rate of over 85 suicides per month. Even before covid-19, Marathwada accounted for 34% of the state’s nearly 12,000 farm suicides, between 2015-2018.

Vinod Nimbalkar, 32, a farmer from Kolgaon, is still sitting on his 40 quintals of cotton because the current rate of 7,000 per quintal won’t even help him break even. “I invested nearly 3 lakh in my 10 acres of farmland," he said. “But the harvest wasn’t up to the mark because of inconsistent rain. It poured heavily at the time of the harvest and destroyed some of the stock."

Climate change has led to variations in temperature and precipitation, reducing farm income by 15-18% for irrigated areas, according to the OECD’s Economic Survey of 2017-18. The losses, the survey states, could be as high as 25% in non-irrigated areas, like Kolgaon, where farmers are solely dependent on monsoons.

“I have struggled to break even for three years straight," Nimbalkar said. “Farming is no longer a reliable source of income."

However, Nimbalkar is relatively less worried about it. In December 2021, he took to blogging, too. “Raskar’s example was right in front of me," he said. “I had seen his journey, so I took the plunge."

Nimbalkar runs two blogs–one focusing on sporting updates and the other on government schemes. It has been just over a year, so his traffic isn’t as high as Raskar. But 1.5 lakh page views a month is still impressive. “From December 2021 to December 2022, I earned 15 lakh," he said.

Nimbalkar is now considering making blogging his full-time job, and slowly phasing out his farmland. He wants to see if he can expand his new venture. “Most importantly, it gives me excitement," he said. “Farming, on the other hand, only gives anxiety. I made more money in one year of blogging than I did in the past five or seven years in farming. My parents seem extremely relaxed."

Nimbalkar wants to save up to build a concrete house and to send his three-year-old son to a private school. “I currently live in a makeshift hut made of soil and hay," he said. “I want to ensure my parents and son have more comfort in life."

Raskar said that when people in the village earn money, it doesn’t remain limited to those people. It uplifts the economy of the whole village. “Until a few years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a single house made of cement and concrete in the village," he said. “Today, over 100 bloggers have built their own houses. It ensured regular work for contractors and labourers. Otherwise, farmers couldn’t afford to employ labourers in their farmlands."

Raskar, himself, has bought a four-wheeler and paid off all the loans his parents took—up to 7 lakh. His parents couldn’t be more proud of him. But he is most relieved with the fact that his three-year-old daughter will have a comfortable childhood, and the resources to study as much as she wants to. He grew up in a house made of mud with a tin-roof shed. She is growing up in a bungalow.

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