Rural Business Hub on Strawberry in Ri-Bhoi District, Meghalaya
Under the Rural Business Hub scheme of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship helped the villagers of Sohliya Village to establish a hi-tech nursery for strawberry in Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya. Rural Business Hub is a participatory development model for the rural areas of the country that is built on the platform of 4-Ps, i.e. Public-Private-Panchayat-Partnership. Under this scheme the Ministry of Panchayati Raj provides need based assistance to village(s) in rural areas of the country. The objective of the scheme is to spread the benefits of India's rapid economic development to the rural areas through the medium of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).
The project on strawberry was identified after a series of discussions with the Strawberry Growers Association of Ri-bhoi district of Meghalaya. With the initiative of Mr. O. Lyngkhoi, in the year 1998, experiment of growing strawberries was started. The major problem was getting strawberry seedling which had to be procured from California. It was through the Dewlieh Centre of Excellence for strawberries run by the Department of Horticulture, Government of Meghalaya, that seedlings were procured. Along with high price per seedling, the supply irregularity resulted in late fruiting of strawberries which in turn led to lowering of quantum of the fruit. The second major problem was getting a remunerative price for strawberries. There was no system of costing and fixing a minimum remunerative price and this resulted in loss to the farmers.
Horticulture department of the Govt. of Meghalaya, from the year 2002, started giving handholding and technical support to commercialise strawberry production. However, once the initiative was taken up, more and more farmers started cultivating strawberries and the production no doubt went up but due to factors like seasonality, problem of sourcing planting material and organized marketing effort the farmers were not able to capitalize on this unique initiative.
The RBH project in Meghalaya was conceived under this background. Being a holistic scheme it was possible to integrate the needs of the farmers through setting up a Hi-Tech Nursery for growing seedlings and also involving the village council for selection of farmers and arranging for a private buyer for buy-back arrangement at a predetermined price.
- Seuji Agro Processing and Services Pvt. Ltd.
- Ri-Bhoi Strawberry Growers Association
- Dewlieh Centre of Excellence for Strawberries
- Department of Horticulture
- Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship and
- Sohliya Village Council
Under the MoU, Seuji Agro Processing and Services Pvt. Ltd was the 'Private Partner' and deliverables
included 100% buy-back assurance to the growers by the private partner. Strawberry Growers Association took the responsibility of selling the produce directly to Seuji Agro Processing and Services Pvt. Ltd. It was also decided that at village level, village council would help identify growers (beneficiaries) with the assistance of Seuji Agro Processing and Services Pvt. Ltd and work closely with them in scaling up the operations in the village by organizing interactive sessions on the best practices and training sessions for the local farmers.
IIE as the proposing organization was mandated with certain responsibilities.
- Coordinating between different players and bringing convergence through different schemes for facilitating implementation and expansion of the proposed plan
- IIE was required to support implementation and sponsoring of the training and also monitor the project activities.
The implementation of the project was done through the Strawberry Growers Association and the association was responsible for installation of the hi-tech nursery to grow seedlings and they signed a MoU with the commercial buyers to sell their products at a pre-determined price.
Before setting up the hi-tech nursery, the seedling had to be procured from California which not only involved huge investment but there was also uncertainty on delivery. This often led to late planting and late fruiting. California produces the best quality strawberry seedlings in the world and a number of countries are dependent on them. The basic idea of starting the hi-tech nursery was that there would be no difference in the quality (seedling and fruit) of planting materials.
The setting up of the nursery helped in solving a number of problems like easy availability of planting material at lower cost and an assured market at a pre-determined price. With a facilitating agency like IIE, it was possible to mobilize support of banks and also to create awareness and to conduct skill development programmes in Sohliya village. The SBI adopted the Sohliya village and provided credit to all the farmers. This became a big boon for the village and the farmers could invest in planting materials and expand their business. The Strawberry Growers Association took up the responsibility of ensuring repayment. Sohliya village was also awarded as an ideal strawberry village.
The Impact The impact of the project can be seen in terms of rise in farming families' income. This has helped in better housing, health care and education for the children. Aspirit of entrepreneurship is visible in the village and the market presence of strawberries has increased to a large extent. During strawberry season the farmers weekly income goes up from average Rs. 400 to Rs. 4000.
Initially, raw strawberries and their by-products were sold in the local markets. Gradually, they expanded the market by developing market linkages with private buyers who were selling the raw fruits and their products in malls. Apart from the local distribution channels the raw strawberriesare also supplied to the government processing departments and private players. Presently, there is a major private player namely the Mansan Foods Pvt. Ltd. which is both producing and selling strawberry products in the various markets in Ri- Bhoi, Nongpoh, Umsning, Shillong, Guwahati, Jowai and Cherrapunji. Apart from Mansan Foods, the Food processing department, Meghalaya, Shillong, is also carrying out marketing. However, the government department does not sell the products commercially, it facilitates selling in trade fairs and exhibitions spread over Shillong, Jowai and other districts of Meghalaya. Subsequently, they also have been able to develop successful market linkages with airlines and also export a part of their produce to countries like Bangladesh. Besides this, strawberries are also processed to prepare jam, squash, wine, etc. and these products are marketed to various markets of Meghalaya and parts of Assam.
Empowerment of Women Strawberry plantation has brought a significant change in the rural households of Sohliya village. From northern Europe to United States, it has now arrived to the remote villages of Meghalaya. The berry, which is a symbol of purity and sensuality, fertility and abundance, humility and modesty, has made an overwhelming impact in the lives of hundreds of rural people in Meghalaya.
Amida Lyngkhoi living in a small hamlet of Sohliya, in Ri-Bhoi district, could hardly make her two ends meet. But today Amida has reasons to smile. Like Amida there are many other women in Sohliya village who have experienced a complete change in their lives. Thanks to the strawberries. Most of the villagers are cultivating these plants in half acre to three acres of land and annually manage to get up to Rs. 25000 - Rs. 50000 on an average, depending on the area of land under production and the total yield. These people have no substitute for hard work as they keep themselves always engaged in striving for more.
The income has substantially lifted the conditions of these rural people. Strawberry is an easy crop to grow and its cultivation does not require extensive labour. Thus, there was a common perception amongst the men that strawberry cultivation is meant for women and as a result there were more women farmers coming into the scene. Gradually there was a dramatic change in the lifestyles of these women and their children were able to avail facilities of better schooling and a better way of life.