India Interior

Small steps become big strides in Sindhudurg

Tina Edwin | Updated on July 27, 2018 Published on July 27, 2018

Ladies special (from left) Akshaya Revadkar, Mitali Shirodkar, Dipika Gaonkar and Urmila Sawant cooking in the kitchen run by Maher Loksanchalit Sadhan Kendra, a community-managed resource centre

The processing of raw cashew

How timely nudges and intervention created livelihoods in Maharashtra

An entire room in Hanumant Chavan’s house in Terse Bambarde village in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra, serves as a storeroom for sacks of raw cashew. He will soon put 2-3 tonnes of this cash crop through stages of processing involving steaming, cutting, sorting, drying and polishing in a two-room unit equipped for the purpose, right outside his front door.

He plans to process 15 tonnes of cashew this year, starting April 2018, up from the 12 tonnes he managed last year. Helping him in the work are his wife and two teenaged children. Chavan has come a long way over the last five years when he was processing just about 1.5 tonnes of the dry fruit per year. The cashew from Chavan’s unit is branded Siddhi and Venkatesh, named after his children, and sold mostly in Mumbai and Pune.

In Sawantwadi, Dipika Gaonkar and Urmila Sawant are among the 30 rural women who, till two years ago, were mostly ordinary housemakers, taking care of their home and hearth. Gaonkar, like many other housewives, enjoyed watching cookery shows on television and experimenting with new dishes. Sawant was involved with a self-help group (SHG) and would spend a part of her day collecting deposits from women who wanted to save small amounts of money.

The processing of raw cashew

 

Today, Gaonkar and Sawant, along with 28 other women, earn up to ₹6,000 a month from cooking in a kitchen run by the Maher Loksanchalit Sadhan Kendra, a community-managed resource centre. Maher was established by Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal (MAVIM), a corporation of the Maharashtra government working in the field of women’s development.

The kitchen was started as a pilot project under the Indian Railway’s e-catering project that allowed SHGs to provide meals through the IRCTC. Incidentally, Sindhudurg district was the launch pad for e-catering by SHGs, and some say that had a lot to do with then Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu’s roots in that district.

Railway catering and beyond

The 300-sq ft kitchen is located close to the Sawantwadi Road railway station and provides a choice of Malvani dishes on demand to passengers travelling on trains that halt at that station.

However, railway catering accounts for 25 per cent of the business today and is not enough to sustain the operations. This led to the kitchen expanding its service to cater at weddings, birthday parties and other events.

The economic turnaround in the lives of Chavan, Gaonkar and Sawant is a result of interventions of Lupin Human Welfare and Research Foundation through its corporate social responsibility activities in Sindhudurg, in skills training and capacity building.

Helping hand from Lupin

Chavan was taught more efficient techniques of processing, branding and packaging cashew and marketing the produce. Gaonkar and Sawant, along with the other women, underwent a 30-day training in bulk cooking and other skills by experts from the Taj Group of Hotel’s Goa properties. “When Lupin explained the project at an SHG meeting, I got interested. After the training, I have started earning ₹250-300 a day. Prior to that I had no income,” said Gaonkar. “We are delighted that the food we cook is served on big trains,” added Sawant.

In both instances, Lupin Foundation provided small financial support to get the projects off the ground and helped them access institutional finance. The e-catering project got about ₹5 lakh from Lupin while Chavan got a loan of ₹1.5 lakh to buy raw materials.

That said, more than the financial support, it is the non-monetary support that has made the big difference. This included preparation of project reports, other documentation and helping comply with statutory requirements to access institutional finance.

In the instance of e-catering, Lupin worked with the women’s groups to prepare and submit a detailed project report on e-catering to NABARD for funding and thereafter worked with the MAVIM to implement the project through Mehar. NABARD provided ₹6 lakh as financial support through the Livelihood and Enterprise Development Programme and continues its association with the project.

In the case of Chavan, the ₹1.5-lakh loan has helped him scale up his operations and income. He can process up to 200 kg in a day compared to 25 kg a day five years ago. Chavan has ploughed back about ₹5 lakh of his earnings to invest in new equipment, besides returning the loan he took from Lupin. The banks now give him ₹8 lakh for working capital requirement. “Five years ago, banks were not willing to give me even a ₹50,000 loan,” said Chavan.

The Maher e-catering unit, which started providing meals in December 2016, made a turnover of over ₹6 lakh by January 2018. Besides being self-employed, the 30 women are now role models for others in Sawantwadi. Some of them are training other women in the art of bulk cooking to replicate the project in other areas.

The writer travelled for the story at the invitation of Lupin Foundation

Published on July 27, 2018
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