These Hill Women Who Were Ridiculed for Their Door-to-Door Sales, Now Run a Successful Enterprise
They grew up watching their moms and grandmoms make chutney, jam, dried apple, and other traditional eatables at home. And now the women of Kotgarh in Himachal Pradesh run a business around these products under the Kotgarh Valley Village Organisation.
Saurabh Chauhan 9 Nov 2023 7:32 AM GMT
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Kotgarh, the apple bowl of India, is buzzing with activity these days, thanks to the local pahadi (hill) women who have come together to form Kotgarh Valley Village Organisation.
Five women self-help groups (SHGs) of Kotgarh in Himachal Pradesh, about 75 kilometres from the state capital Shimla, formed the organisation last year, in 2022, to join forces to manufacture and promote the various food products they make at their homes.
These include apple and plum jams, chutneys, moodi (puffed rice), bicchoo booti (nettle leaf tea), boi (dried apple) and other items. They sell their products under the brand name Kotgarh Valley VO.
The organisation started with 35 women and it is growing and now has 46 active members. It has women of all age groups. “We have senior members to guide us and young women as an active workforce,” Poonam Chauhan, president of the Kotgarh Valley Village Organisation, told Gaon Connection.
Kotgarh is better known as the land of apples as the first sapling of Royal apple was planted here in 1916 by Satyanand Stokes, originally Samual Stokes — an American missionary — who got converted to Arya Samaj and married a local woman.
Most of the residents of this area are closely associated with apple orchards, either directly or indirectly.
“This is nothing new. We are doing what we have done for decades. Making jam, chutney, dehydrating apples, and making moodi (puffed rice), all these are traditional activities here. We just introduced a professional way to market it,” said Poonam Chauhan.
The jams these women make are sold between Rs 300 a kilogram (plum jam) and Rs 400 a kg (apple jam). A 250 gms packet of moodi is sold for Rs 130 and chutney for Rs 300 a kg.
“We grew up looking after apple orchards. We used to make chutney and jam, for our own use, but never thought that it could work like this. Young women are enterprising, they just need family support,” said Shakuntala Bhaik, a 70-year-old woman from Kotgarh village.
The women’s organisation tasted some success in June this year, at the five-day Shimla Summer Festival, where its products were on display for both national and an international crowd.
“It was a great experience. We used our traditional recipes to make the jams and chutneys and sold them. Besides making us some money, it has instilled some confidence in us,” Kamlesh Devi, one of the members of the organisation, told Gaon Connection.
The women generated revenue of around Rs 1.5 lakh from the Shimla International Summer Festival. With the money they made at the festival, the women bought bigger vessels and packaging machines to grow their jam and chutney making enterprise.
“I have seen my mother and mother-in-law making apple chutney, and jam all these years. But I never knew that it could be a source of additional income. This year, we purchased apples from the local growers and made chutney, jam and dried apples called boi,” Suchita Thakur, another member of Kotgarh Valley Village Organisation, told Gaon Connection.
Apple orchard owners are also supporting these women. Ranjit Chauhan, who owns an apple orchard at Kotgarh, said: “Instead of going for it in a big way, our women are doing it in small groups. If we have such units or women's groups in every village, it will help the farmers as well as farming families. This cooperative model is the future.”
The women already had the legacy of the recipes. They knew what they were doing, said Anil Sharma, in charge of the Himachal Pradesh State Rural Livelihood Mission.
“There is so much traditional knowledge available locally. It just needs a push from the government to provide a market. The women know their job well. And seeing how well this group of SHGs are functioning, more women from Kotgarh are joining in too,” Sharma told Gaon Connection.
Meanwhile, these days the women of Kotgarh are occupied doing other things such as making earthen diyas in time for Diwali. These will also be sold through the Kotgarh Valley Village Organisation. These women have also received an order for moodi (a local snack) from a group of school teachers in Shimla, followed by orders for some holi colour.
The women are also making nettle leaf tea (bicchu buti). It is said to be a good detox and the women are processing it and selling it as a detox beverage.
Members of the Kotgarh Valley Village Organisation hope that their enthusiasm and enterprise will keep them going. It is not the first time attempts were made to give some structure to their cottage industry.
“When I was the panchayat pradhan almost 20 years ago, there were similar schemes but they did not take off for various reasons. Selling the jams and chutneys they made was perhaps a difficult thing for the women, but now the enterprise has become so much more professional,” Kaushalya Chauhan, from Virgarh village told Gaon Connection.
Despite difficulties, these women never gave up. “With no help from outside, we made plum jam, apple jam and chutney in our home kitchens and went door to door to sell it,” narrated Kaushalya Chauhan.
People started judging them. Some ridiculed them for their door-to-door marketing effort. A lot of people did not approve of homemakers stepping outdoors and becoming entrepreneurs. But the women of Kotgarh remained undeterred. Gradually other villagers started supporting them. And now there is no stopping the women of Kotgarh.