Fruits and vegetables are seasonal as well as perishable in nature. Dehydration of seasonal fruits and vegetables are a good bet for long-term storage even up to 5 years or beyond if hermetically sealed and can be made available to the consumers during the off-season. There is immense scope of the market for certain popular and high-value dehydrated seasonal fruits and vegetables.
In the village of Tiruattur, our women farmers used to cultivate Brinjal vegetables by using organic farming practices. And in the brinjal cultivation, mostly 25 percent of vegetables might become affected by pests, which will not take to marketing. Hence, they found an innovative idea of drying vegetables would create a value from the wasted brinjal.
They have cut the brinjal into small pieces and tried it from sunlight for the one week, which become a dehydrated vegetable and they sold it to their own villagers and nearby villages, which might be used for making tamarind sambar.
Farming has always been a dominant vocation in the tiny village of Neikulam that sits on the periphery of the grand old city of Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, India. With the advent of the green revolution in the 1960s came the inorganic fertilizer boom, and farming became a costly affair over the years. The land was stripped of its nutrients, and water table fell drastically, and farmlands ran dry of natural nutrients. Now, the farmers are taking baby steps back to their roots to switch back to the age-old natural methods. The women in the community had been silent observers of this change. Slowly they came to the forefront to lead by example in this village. They formed a self-help group (SHG), a group of people who work on daily wages, farming, and animal husbandry. They created a loose grouping or union and named themselves ' Thirusangu malar,' meaning the flower of Baobab. They decided to befriend the farmer's best friend - the earthworm. Tiny as it may seem, the humble earthworm helps turn leaf litter, food waste, and soil into 'Black Gold'- the vermicompost.
" Given the meager earnings, the men are often compelled to migrate to nearby towns and cities to find work to support their families. However, migration is not an option for the women of Neikulam.." says Amala. She is a 36-year-old housewife who used to take up daily wage works under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme. Her husband migrated to Dubai as a daily wage laborer to make ends meet. She has to take care of her two children and household work and daily labor. " It was very hectic for me. When the self-help group was formed, I was eager to take up activities with them. Since most of us do not have much land with us, we were skeptical about taking up agriculture-related activities. But VOICE trust called us for training at their Sirugannur Centre. We learned about vermicomposting and started with the bags they gave us." she says, beaming with pride. Amala spearheaded the Trisangu Malar group's activities, availed training with VOICE Trust's technical team, and got the starter pack of 10 vermicompost beds. The 12 members' strong SHG has provided these rural women the space to discuss new ideas and work towards their aspirations. To bolster the group's activities and develop it into an enterprise, they would put the earnings from the business in a joint SHG savings account. These savings are crucial for the success of the SHG and to meet the members' financial requirements in times of need. These women have started dreaming of building a good life without moving away from their village while helping the farmers heal their land. They did not just want to learn new skills but also wanted to start a shop in the village where they could sell vermicompost manure and other bio-inputs made by them. They say the earth never forsakes the one that believes in her. The group had diligently worked on the starter kit and harvested 1000 kg of superior quality vermicompost. They sold the 'Black Gold' at Rs 8 per kg, resulting in a 5% increase in their overall earnings. The earth and her tiny soldier, the humble little earthworm, kept their promise and helped these women inch towards fulfilling their dreams. The silent revolution in the countryside has begun and shall again momentum until environmental protection is a tangible reality. This project wouldn't have been possible without your kind donations!!
"The success of the WomanCAN Tomato Jam has motivated more women to join us. When they saw us gaining financial independence through this, they were convinced" says Revathi, a 49 year old homemaker turned entrepreneur. She is a part of the 13 member strong Purathakudi Women's Self Help Group that is bringing in sweeping changes in the village.
"After joining the group we recieved saplings from VOICE trust to grow organic tomatoes. We made jam out of it and sold it across the locality using a manned vehicle. We also sold our product through RK tea stall," says Revathi with a proud smile. Her resourcefulness during the pandemic knew no bounds. She along with the other members of the team prepared tomato jams, undertook the packaging and distribution. "The main issue faced by us now is that our jam lasts for only a couple of days as it is free of preservatives. Also, since it is produced from organic tomatoes using natural methods, the quantum produced is small. We are planinng to gear up the production in future and our ultimate goal is to produce enough to meet the growing demand " she quips with a hopeful face.
The sleepy village of Irungallur of Mannachanallur Taluk in Trichy now wakes up to the hustle of these women entreprenuers who have created value added products out of Tomatoes. The crop was otherwise sold for pittance in the market. With the support and training from VOICE Trust, they learned the art of organic farming and creating products like jams, vadakam and pickles. The tomato vadakam is already a hit among the kids. They have started collecting a monthly contribution of Rs 50 from each members for upscaling the WomenCAN project. They look forward to learning more and getting further support from VOICE trust, for this project provided them with the much needed financial agency and independence. They started small; for life was getting increasingly difficult with each passing day during the pandemic.Mustering courage to start out was the biggest challenge. They have come a long way and now there is no looking back.
If you have been following our progress, you know that we have been working with a sangam of 20 women who we taught to grow tomatoes organically and then preserve them as jams and relishes. They were having great success selling their products when the second wave of COVID hit, and Tamil Nadu went into lockdown. Because their whole village was subject to quarantine due to an especially high rate of COVID infection, we have been able to have little contact with them since.
But we seem to have turned the corner on the pandemic's spread, and restrictions are slowly being eased. When we finally meet with these women next week, we expect to be able to deliver several mobile food carts to them, which should make it easier and safer for them to sell their wares. We will also provide them with cash grants that they will be able to use to support their work however they see fit.
Root for us that when we meet with them again in July, it will be safe enough to train them to use the cell phones that we will buy for them and program with apps that we will download to help them with marketing and accounting.
In December, we held a workshop to train a women’s self-help group (sangam) in making various tomato products, at which we distributed saplings for them to grow. Their tomato plants are now brimming with ripe tomatoes, and the women have begun preparing tomato jam from them, using a family recipe one of them contributed. Everything they have made so far has sold out almost immediately within the village. The jam was flavoured with lemon and ginger juice, and sweetened with jaggery (made from unrefined cane sugar, date sugar and/or palm sap). It was a wonderful recipe: we tasted some and it was delicious!
At their meeting this month, the women organized themselves into 4 teams, responsible for jam preparation, tomato pickling, tomato papad (a snack similar to potato chips), and marketing respectively. One member has volunteered her tea shop as a location to sell their products. They are also collecting monthly dues that will help to keep the membership constant and that can be tapped by any of the women as a loan when needed. They have has set up an accounting log and a book for recording the business decisions the women make collectively.
VOICE Trust will use the funds you donate to this project to provide the spices and other additional ingredients, as well as branding and marketing support; the women have volunteered to provide all other required supplies (cooking utensils, oil, etc.).
A brand name, which we will print on labels for them, will provide a recognizable identity for their products. Suggestions welcome!
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