Of chemical-free extraction

Of chemical-free extraction

Aalemane

Nelamane, a nondescript village about eight km from Srirangapatna in Mandya district, has become a laboratory where experiments on traditional food-processing methods are carried out.

A group of like-minded professionals have set up a bull-driven gaana (a wooden unit to extract oil from types of seeds using bulls).

In many gaana units across the state, machines are used to extract oil from seeds under high temperature. However, at the Nelamane unit, the traditional method ensures that the seeds are crushed under low temperature. This retains the quality and aroma of oil.

There are 12 Hallikar bulls (a native breed) to pull the log.  The unit is free of machines and plastic. The oil is sold either in glass bottles or metal containers.

“I have been attracted to the rural ways of life since my high-school days. I nurtured the dream of relocating to this village, where my grandparents lived, to revive traditional practices,” Kamalesh M, an MTech graduate, explains.

Kamalesh is backed by a team of like-minded people Mahesh Kumar, Srikanth, Sowmya, Deepak, Basavaraj and Meghashree.

While lecturing at a private engineering college in Bengaluru, Kamalesh ventured into organic-milk production. The venture wasn’t successful. 

“Though there was a good response, it wasn’t viable financially. I ended it within two years due to lack of awareness about organic milk, poor marketing facility, and expensive logistics,” he recalls.

He then went to New Delhi to prepare for UPSC exams in 2014.

It was an accidental meeting with Basavaraj there that sowed the seeds of a gaana unit. 

“Often we would discuss cottage industries and methods to revive them to generate employments, especially for women in rural areas. By then, I had read a lot about the chemically processed edible oil, chemicals used in the process, and its impact on health. The idea of launching a traditional gaana unit took its birth,” he adds.

After pitching the idea, like-minded college friends invested in the project. He trained at the Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru, to launch a start-up and set up a gaana unit as it was inexpensive.  

“I used the abandoned materials to set up structures,” he says. Three rooms were constructed for the unit. For six months, he travelled across Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to study the techniques of a gaana unit.

Traditional wooden gaana units were no longer in use. There was nobody to carve the wood into a gaana unit. Moreover, designs and specifications were not available. 

“I was determined not to use machines. I managed to get designs of a few abandoned ones,” Kamalesh recalls.

As many as five carpenters worked on the design, but it did not match the specifications. Eventually, he got a unit built by one carpenter. About Rs 3.25 lakh was spent on the first unit. It took less time and money to set up the second. 

The trial oil-extraction process began in March 2019. They sold the oil to relatives and friends, and sought their feedback. The response was encouraging. Its commercial production began in September 2019.

The better oil

Nutrients are intact in bull-driven gaana oil. The oil does not undergo any chemical refining or bleaching, which changes any oil’s natural composition.

Studies indicate that high fibre content helps eliminate waste from the body and keeps cholesterol and blood pressure under control. High antioxidants strengthen immune system  and slow down ageing.

Locally available seeds are used to extract groundnut, coconut, sesame, safflower, niger and castor oil. About 1,500 litres of oil is extracted over the course of a month. After extracted, the oil may be used for six months.

The oil is sold in two quantities — one kg and half kg. 

So far, there are two gaana units with six women and two men employed on a full-time basis. Each is paid a monthly salary of Rs 8,000. Each of the six part-time workers are paid Rs 3,000 per month. They are planning to set up two more units shortly.

Last year, Over 7,000 families bought about 5,000 litres of oil. A one-litre glass bottle is priced Rs 380. It costs Rs 360 for those who either return glass bottles or bring their own containers. About 20% profit is earned on one litre of oil. At present, the oil is sold in Mysuru, Mandya and Bengaluru districts.

“We are satisfied with the quality of oil we get from here,” says Srikant, a customer. Vasantha, who worked at a garment factory, now earns more at the unit. “The working hours were long and there was a lot of work pressure. As the unit is close to my house, it saves my time, energy and money,” she points out.

What next?

The team has spent Rs 12 lakh on two gaana units. “We are doing our best to help people consume chemical-free food,” says Basavaraj, who supports the venture. “We will surely help those who plan to replicate our model,” he adds.

The team members have decided to commission a traditional food park over one acre land in Nelamane.

There are plans to produce organic milk and jaggery, traditional eatables without chemicals, besides handmade products.

(For details, contact Kamalesh M
on 9844123344)

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