She's quite a ray of sunshine...

She's quite a ray of sunshine...

Dr Sarla Lakhawat is not merely a talented agri-scientist, but also a creator of flourishing livelihood in Anta village of Baran district, observes Rakesh Kumar."

In 2007, the district administration of Baran in southeastern Rajasthan was faced with a dilemma. With local farmers on the verge of giving up the cultivation of amla, or Indian gooseberry, they were at a complete loss as to how to prevent this trend. That’s when a local food and nutrition scientist came up with a plan. She proposed that amla be distributed as part of the mid day meal for children in primary schools, as candy, murabba (compote) and laddus (Indian sweetmeat). To deliver on this idea, she advocated the involvement of women self help groups (SHGs) for processing and distribution.

One shot, three strikes

With innovative thinking and a sound scientific approach, Dr Sarla Lakhawat, who works at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in Anta, of Baran district, has managed to fight the region’s triple curse of acute malnutrition among children, tough agricultural challenges and the poor status of women.

Says Lakhawat, “Amla is a cheap fruit and I knew in this way we would be able to cover a critical nutritional gap in our children. Also, since the involvement of women has many advantages we encouraged them to come forward. Around 56 SHGs were formed in different villages and they took on the responsibility of catering to one Mid-day Meal nodal agency each.”

The SHGs were encouraged to expand their work and they started putting up stalls in melas (fairs) across the district to retail the amla products. The endeavour became a huge success.

Imparting nutrition

Besides providing a fillip to amla production, Lakhawat has done key work on finding ways to fight malnutrition particularly prevalent among the Sahariya tribals. Her research on soybean, a major local crop, presented a practical solution to this challenge. Though farmers gave their entire harvest to the oil mills, she advocated that women use soybean flour at home. “I told them it is a great source of protein and encouraged them to mix one kilo of soybean flour with nine kilos of wheat flour. Initially, they did not want to consume soybean flour because it has a bitter taste and sticks to the throat. So I taught them a processing method to make it palatable,” she elaborates.

Creating entrepreneurs

Lakhawat has connected with the women of this remote region by assisting them to organise themselves into SHGs. While one attempt was through the amla products scheme, another revolved around providing skills training in embroidery and stitching to transform them into entrepreneurs. 

This talented agri-scientist, who has recently been conferred with the Swami Sejhanand Saraswati Outstanding Extension Scientist Award 2012, also has a yen for technology. On searching the Internet for a way out, she realised that there was a lot of demand for garlic granules and powder. She then made a yellow page in her name and invited business inquiries. She then developed a post-harvest unit to process garlic using solar energy. The technique has enabled the garlic farmers of Anta to add value to their produce and connect with the international market.

There is a distinctly different air about Anta and its surrounding village today. Mud homes have given way to brick structures, the fields are bountiful, the children go to school and women have become proud entrepreneurs. A lot of this change can be attributed to Lakhawat’s hardwork and inspiring innovative ideas.

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