Meet the aloe shareholders

Hema Yadav Lalit Singh | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on March 27, 2015

Decision-makers Members of a farmer producer company discuss business plans Lalit Singh

ALoe Vera Products Juice and cosmetics Picture Lalit Singh

Women members at Aloe vera processing Unit, Jawaja

The journey from poor farmers to market-savvy producers and sellers

Jawaja development block, in the southern end of Rajasthan’s Ajmer district, falls in the rain shadow area of the Aravalli hills, receiving a low average rainfall of 300 mm annually.

The average land size is just about 0.4 hectares. The limited natural resources and groundwater have spurred the growth and success of nearly 300 self-help groups in the 23 Gram Panchayat Samitis. There are also two women producer groups involved in aloe vera cultivation and goat rearing, respectively.

Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs) are a new way of agglomerating producers to help them participate in competitive markets. Formed under an enactment in 2003 of the Companies Act 1956, producer companies are being formed in various states for marketing seeds, fertilisers, horticultural products, forest produce, local handicrafts and related products.

In Jawaja, the all-woman Grameen Aloe Producer Company Limited (GAPCL) received support from the United Nations Development Programme in 2009. It was further supported by Aravali, a voluntary organisation working through the Aga Khan Foundation Innovation Fund, until February 2012. The Grameen Development Society supporting it currently is committed to livelihood augmentation for the poor, with presence in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.

GAPCL has been a long and exciting journey for its members, who started out as poor farmers. Apart from juice, the company blends aloe vera with cucumber to make cosmetics and with amla to make packaged ready-to-use health products.

At a recent training programme, the self-confidence of the women was evident as they have crossed many a hurdle along the way. They started with making wasteland fit for the cultivation of aloe plants, then learned to harvest the succulent leaves and, finally, perfected the manufacture of market-ready packaged products.

Bhanwari Devi leads the sales team that markets to urban consumers the aloe vera juice and aloe vera cream enriched with rose and cucumber. Kamla Devi has been taking the products to exhibitions across the country. The women carry pamphlets and brochures to promote their products actively.

From the way the group functions, the social mobilisation and inclusion of women farmers is clearly evident and the panchayat samiti supports them. A member of both the samiti and GAPCL, Santosh Rawat attends all company meetings, including the annual general meeting.

However, under the joy there is anxiety too. During the training, all members had the same questions: How do you get the produce to move faster and continuously in the market? When will they finally have a non-stop cycle of cultivation, harvesting, production and sales? Aloe, after all, is a wonderful product that can heal wounds and other skin ailments, finds use in treating diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and osteoarthritis, and is popular as a health food.

The marketing challenges were perhaps unforeseen. There was need for sustained demand to keep the factory running full steam for decent profits

A first step is to ensure market access but not before redefining the products for the market. GAPCL needs to assume the role of market leader rather than follow established marketing practices. It needs a business plan and consistent training in branding the product as a health drink.

The CCS National Institute of Agricultural Marketing (NIAM) has trained the women in establishing market linkages. Surely, the hard work of these women farmer-producers will not go in vain.

Hema Yadav is Deputy Director, NIAM, Jaipur and Lalit Singh is Director, Vandana Welfare Society, Ajmer

Published on March 27, 2015
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