He is on his way to the reservoir to meet his 4 fellow fishermen waiting there, equipped with all that is needed. It is a part of his routine now to display his Khaire Inland Fisheries Cooperative’s membership ID card at the check-post and take their 5 men fishing boat deep into the reservoir at night for the catch. This skill is relatively new to him; 5 years old precisely, and yet he shares a special bond with it. While he sticks to his traditional Katkari (fishermen) community’s style of fishing by the river during the day, the nights are reserved here. Mithun, 24, is the young and enthusiastic secretary of the cooperative movement started by Shramjivi Janta Sahayak Mandal (SJSM) in his and the neighboring block. Mithun tells us –
“We were unaware and prohibited from reservoir fishing before coming in contact with SJSM in 2007. That was a tough time for us. A lot of destruction was caused by the rains. I had completed my class 10th and with a few of my friends joined in. About 8 to 10 hamlets were allocated to each one of us. We received training in reservoir fishing and in turn encouraged folks from our allocated areas to become members of the cooperative which was to bid for the reservoir fishing rights that year. At that time, i fished during the day in the Nageshwari river for 4 to 5 kilos catch and sold it myself in the local markets. I sold them at around Rs. 120 to 130 per kilo. The efforts however were huge. All my day was occupied running between the river and the market and only this income for a few months was proving insufficient. Moving out of my home looked inevitable.
Things changed when i met SJSM. I started going out with a group of 5 fishermen every night for fishing in the reservoir. They also helped us acquire a boat at subsidized rates, good quality nets and ice boxes. A catch of about 8 to 10 kilos were obtained daily which i sold to the cooperative for Rs. 60 per kilo. This income was over and above my income from river water fishing. Also it saved me the hassle of marketing the catch. The income from both the day and night fishing together is now sufficient for my family. I spend the spare time i have between both the fishing shifts now in coordinating the cooperative’s activities and giving time at our in-house hatchery …”
What was the territory marked by resourceful private individuals hitherto, the right to fish in the small reservoirs scattered over the Mahad and Poladpur blocks of Raigad district of Maharashtra, is now shifting into the hands of the local Katkari (fishermen) community. And they are not complaining after experiencing how fisheries has moved from being the supportive to prime livelihood source for 483 families of the region; families whose incomes from a skill they have traditionally known going up from Rs. 2,080 to 14,632 in 3 years’ span; families whose fathers and sons do not have to go away in search of money anymore.
She accelerates past a couple of other motor cyclists as i clutch the notepad in one hand and the back of the pillion seat with another. In the past hour, she had explained me the various stages which a bamboo goes through right from when the farmer ships it to the unit to becoming a construction component like a robust thrust or a utility furniture or a sleek gazebo or a handicraft item – complete with details of identifying the type, quality and age of it, treatments done, durations and every minute detail of the skill involved. Also she would add details of which product the customer liked more than the other and why while showing them to me. Not once forgetting to give a brief introduction of her team member who is working on it. While i note down the facts on the paper … what my mind registers is an impressive personality. When i was told the production unit manager will show me around, i had immediately formed the stereotype and i definitely did not conjure it to be a woman in her late 20s.
Pravita Nair joined Konbac on the recommendation of her husband’s friend 4 years ago. Fiercely dignified, she says she has quit a lot of prior jobs cause she always had a sense of dissatisfaction and was beginning to think if she will ever find a good employer. Being the bread owner of the family since her father passed away, earning was essential. ‘Sanjeev Karpe sir gives me the freedom which i appreciate the most. I learnt the work directly under his guidance but he has never imposed any restrictions on our approaches as long as the team is aligned to the common vision we all have. The job is not without its ups and downs. But at the end of it, i am satisfied with what i do here and learn every day; and nothing is more important than that.’ Pravita is the coordinator of the activities of KONBAC’s Bamboo Products Common Facility Centre. ‘When i first came to KONBAC, i rode a bicycle through these gates (pointing). Today i have my own motorbike for commuting …’
To replace a traditional supply chain with a proposed value chain, post production processing at supply side itself to give better value to growers, low cost technology innovations, forming producer collectives and encouraging a distinct but perhaps neglected livelihood source; the entrepreneur today has no limit to the wonders that he/she can do, especially in the grameen context. What KONBAC does is trendsetting in that sense. It is on a mission to give bamboo its due credit in India! Over the past 10 years, starting from changing how the western coastal community in the Kudal block of Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra perceives the cultivation and post processing jobs of bamboo to bringing equity investments to Native Konbac Bamboo Products Pvt. Ltd., one of the country’s foremost social enterprises is treading the road less traveled and in the process leaving trails to follow.
Read on here for a complete profile of KONBAC social enterprise which is busy removing the stigma of being a poor man’s steel from bamboo
I look around for Mohan Hodawdekar and his team in the Common Facility Center and spot them busy arranging for the ‘Jack-fruit Lovers’ Club Meeting’ which happens periodically to facilitate discussions, sharing and brain storming around jack-fruit. The theme in the coming meet was the planning of how the objective of processing 60,000 kgs this season is to be handled…
Traditionally, the biodiversity in the coastal belt of western India makes almost every Konkan woman a micro entrepreneur – using the raw material available from backyard for making products primarily meant for self consumption and sometimes sold in the local markets, if surplus. What is intriguing is that this very self sufficiency leads to a lack of business like attitude coupled with other known concerns like lack of quality control, standardization etc. which keeps this skill from translating into something more radical. Times are changing however; the farmers are in want of better prices, cash crops like cashew and Alphonso mango has begun to overpower its less glamorous contemporaries like kokum, jack-fruit, gooseberry.
With this as their backdrop, KoNiM (Konkan Nisarg Manch) – an NGO was started by a handful of enthusiastic youth from the region in 2000, to promote these neglected natural resources and conserve the biodiversity which is Konkan’s hallmark. It is interesting to hear the journey of the initial years of the team and how the organization progressed trying to balance between its vision,reaching out to the poor, translating neglected crops into valued income avenues through innovative interventions, product engineering, technology improvements, market tie-ups and above all changing perspectives and mindsets of the people towards their own ecosystem. The Sfurti project of GoI happened to KoNiM in 2007 which gave it a formidable launch-pad where it finds itself today. It helped them identify, nurture and promote nearly 1000 rural farmers and micro entrepreneurs through an interesting model of Limited Liabilities Proprietorship. The CFC boosts of innovative product engineering leading to over 30 items in neglected fruits domain, neat packaging and labels with branding; software based recording and documentation system; traditional recipes and modern preservation techniques; low cost and simple to operate and maintain processing machines; laboratories and a 10 member team – complete with food technologist, horticulturist, handling staff and helpers to run the show.
We take a ‘Jack-fruit Modak’ tasting break here and i hear Mohanji saying – ‘Sindhusfurti still has a long way to go. But definitely in the first 5 years, the initial inertia has been overcome. The wheels have begun to churn and Konkan as it rightly deserves is on its way to have jack-fruit adding to the glamorous fruits list! We have a vision to not let a single fruit of our region go waste.’
They hear on, amused and with rapt attention, as the accountant explains – “Yes, you both sold same number of birds last week whose payment you have received in your cooperative accounts and can withdraw using your bank card any time, but our system indicates that your efficiency ratios are different; that is why the difference in payments”.
The tutorial continued. This exercise is a routine for the Kesla Poultry Cooperative Unit’s staff now and they do it with zeal. The efficiency ratio is in essence computed for each cooperative member based on their birds’ mortality rate + weight + hygiene + FCR from the records maintained weekly in their diaries after an inspection by the village supervisor. Not only is this ratio used to determine the additional attention and care to be given to each batch; it also determines the payments. The cooperative thus cushions the members from market shocks, using a more fairer parameter to determine prices. The efficiency ratio is one amongst many innovations which characterizes this setup.
Tribal and economically struggling families in Self Help Groups of Saheli village of Kesla block, Hosangabad district in Madhya Pradesh have realized and experienced over the years how their traditional backyard poultry which fetched nothing more than Rs. 5,000 a year, now have become proud owners of approximately 500 birds’ micro poultry units in their backyards which fetch them nearly Rs. 30,000 annually making it their primary source of livelihood over farming and forest based activities. Saheli is not alone to have seen the metamorphosis. Many such villages in Madhya Pradesh and now Jharkhand have become part of this movement led by PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action), an NGO established in 1983.
This is without a doubt one of the most talked about and celebrated model in the development sector now. However a visit to the setup elevates one’s regard for it many folds, cause it demonstrates how when dealt with professionalism and dedication (PRADAN’s trademark abilities) working in livelihoods with tribal communities which is looked upon as an unstructured arena can also be highly efficient and effective.