Colours of spring

SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOOD

Uttara Kannada farmer Manorama Joshi uses natural ingredients to make colours used for Holi, the festival of spring. She is also involved in other farm-based livelihood activities and preparation of dried banana and jackfruit-based confectionaries, writes Anitha Pailoor

ECO-FRIENDLY Manorama Joshi’s experiments with colours draw inspiration from the kitchen. Photo by the authorSoon after Deepavali, women of Sondra, a small village in Uttara Kannada, begin their preparations for the festival that celebrates the return of spring. They have provided momentum to the concept of a safe and healthy Holi by developing a range of natural colours. It all started when Manorama Joshi, a farmer, decided to join hands with a campaign that aimed at organising an eco-friendly Holi.

She was introduced to the campaign by Sunitha Rao, a development activist, who also introduced Manorama to consumer groups like eCoexist. Manorama’s experiments with colours draw inspiration from the kitchen. Turmeric, which she grows in her farm yard, is one of the major ingredients. Rice flour is the base for all colours. Because the work was demand driven with regular orders from Pune-based eCoexist, Manorama had a ready market. She could concentrate more on the quality of colours produced. Careful observation of vegetables and wild leaves that could be used as dyes proved useful.

She uses certain leaves with medicinal properties as preservatives. They also give a pleasant fragrance to the colours. Every year, she came up with new formulae and now in the eighth year, she is close to perfection as far as the colours are concerned. She makes red, green, blue, orange and yellow colours.

In 2003, Manorama started with an order of 60 kg. This year, the demand has increased to five tonnes. These colours are available in Bangalore and other cities of Karnataka. This has also become an income generating activity for a group of 10-15 women farmers for nearly four months with regular intervals. For those who work as farm labourers, it is a welcome change. “It feels good to work in a group, that too away from scorching sunlight,” says Lakshmi, expressing satisfaction about the income she fetches from the work. Manorama and her husband Suryanarayana Joshi share responsibilities of crucial stages of dye-making. The group works on cutting the turmeric and mainly packing the colours. “Festivals should make a positive impact on one’s health,” says Manorama is satisfied with this innovative livelihood activity that has become economically viable for her.

Value addition

Manorama has had a passion for farm-based livelihood activities for long. Once the children were grown up, she had enough time to explore the possibilities. At the same time, she came in contact with Sunita Rao who facilitated economic and social strengthening of women in Sirsi region by forming a network called ‘Vanastree’.

Sunita Rao shared the market potential of dried banana figs with Manorama, who immediately ventured into it. She says, “We women grew alongwith Vanastree.”
Manorama’s son, Vivek, has a passion for agriculture-related activities. His family supported his decision to return to the village after graduation. “He is our marketing manager,” exclaims Suryanarayana Joshi.

In the initial years, Vivek approached dry fruit shops and bakeries in Sirsi with sample packets. People liked the taste and ever since, there has been a steady increase in the demand. He made it a point to carry sample packets with him, wherever he went. Most of their products including dried jackfruit, jackolate and ginger burfi are snapped up by the people of Sirsi. All these products have high health value and have become a favourite with customers. On an average, the monthly production of dry bananas crosses two quintals.

“We insist on quality. As a result we are struggling to meet the demand!” he adds. As production increased, Manorama had to approach her neighbours for bananas. Now, she has started to buy bananas in bulk from Sirsi market. Now the family’s products are available in Bangalore, Goa and Hubli also. Vivek proudly says that so far they have not received any complaint about their product. One kilogram of dried banana requires five to eight kg of bananas. Only certain varieties are suitable for the purpose. The price for a kilogram of dry banana is Rs 100. Two driers are used for drying. Because the entire family gets involved in the process, they are able to manage the chore. The product is sold under the brand name, ‘Sahyadri’. According to Suryanarayana Joshi, they are able to run the show with the income generated from these products. He says that such an activity definitely helps enhance the livelihood of small farmers. They are able to meet the education expenses of their children Prathibha and Vivek.

“Dry banana figs have an enhanced sweetness. They are also useful at times when we don’t get good fruits. We can store them for months together. Children like to eat them like chocolates while they can also be used in preparing sweets,” says Jayashree Naveen who has been a regular customer of Sahyadri dry bananas for the last couple of years.
Farmers now have a way to enhance the shelf-life of ripe bananas which otherwise have to be consumed immediately. Manorama feels happy that the wave of value-addition which they initiated has inspired their peers.

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