March 2016

Trading in tea

Saraswati started out on foot, but now travels around in a scooter — Gaon Chalo Abhiyan, a Himmotthan Society supported initiative to create rural entrepreneurs, has thus transformed the lives of local women in Uttarakhand

Within Uttarakhand, there is a marked inequality vis-à-vis development indicators between the hills and plains; the former lagging behind in development with subsistence farming as mainstay of communities. Consequently, migration and a remittance economy are predominant in the  hilly districts. With  vast  distances between the markets and resources, businesses in the remote hills are technically and financially unviable and pose a series of challenges towards promotion of livelihoods to minimise migration.

Women of Uttarakhand villages have enhanced their livelihoods by selling tea under the Gaon Chalo Abhiyan  

In light of the above, the Himmotthan Society (an organisation seeded by the Trusts) and Tata Global Beverages launched the ‘Gaon Chalo Abhiyan’ in July 2011 in Uttarakhand. This is a rural distribution initiative, in which entrepreneurs within the villages are organised to sell tea from Tata Global Beverages in their area. This not only helped boost rural incomes, but also solved the company’s problem of tackling the last mile rural distribution, which it faced due to low population density, poor road linkages and diffused settlements. Keeping in mind the operational constraints and pilot results, a self-help group (SHG) and entrepreneurship-based model was selected for operations.

A simple but effective idea can change the economy and standard of lives of people and Saraswati Devi is an example of this metamorphosis. She hails from an extremely poor family in Chopriyal village in Chamba block of Tehri Garhwal district. She later moved to Chamba, in order to provide quality education to her children. Being a growing market place in the district, the cost of living in Chamba is higher, as compared  to Chopriyal. Consequently, Saraswati found it difficult to survive with her constrained income.

In 2012, Himalayan Educational and Resource Development Society (HERDS), an organisation supported by Himmotthan Society, initiated Grand Supply Enterprises under the ‘Gaon Chalo Abhiyan’. The organisation was looking for rural distributors, when Saraswati interacted with the team from HERDS and showed her inclination to join the programme. With her good social skills, Saraswati found it easy to interact with the village women and create awareness about the availability of quality tea in their villages. Initially, Saraswati covered eight villages, slowly increasing the coverage to 25 villages  after 3 years. She earns around Rs7,500 – 8,000 every month and is now able to provide decent education for her children. “The journey which I started on foot is now on a Scooty”, says a beaming Saraswati, pointing to her gleaming scooter that she purchased on installments from her monthly income.The Gaon Chalo Abhiyan is a sustainable and economically viable initiative for both, the community and Tata Global Beverages. The initiative has offered opportunities for growth to local women, whilst financially empowering Self Help Groups (SHGs)  and Federations.

Currently, 11 partners of Himmotthan Society are associated with Gaon Chalo Abhiyan, covering 1,300 villages across 26 blocks in six districts of Uttarakhand. More than 1,500 SHGs are linked and benefited through the initiative by revolving their savings to procure tea and earn additional  incomes. On an average,  each SHG earns around Rs1,000 per month. “Umang Bhilangana Dugdh Utpadak”— a women’s Federation partnering in Himmotthan’s Dairy programme is also associated with Gaon Chalo Abhiyan, as a first level distributor from July 2011. So far, the Federation has earned Rs346,842 and sold about 70 tons of tea. Seven rural distributors and a District Coordinator also gained employment through the Federation’s engagement, with each individual earning more than Rs8,000 per month. The SHGs have generated a business of approximately Rs75 million, through the sale of 386 tons of tea upto March 2015, directly benefiting 80 rural individuals, each earning an average monthly income between Rs6,000 to Rs7,000. Success stories such as these highlight the potential for creating several hundred rural entrepreneurs  and scaling the Gaon Chalo Abhiyan across the state.