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.’