When Fancy first pitched the idea of forming an association back in 2010, she highlighted how through value addition, we can earn money as well as prevent wastage of the fruits, berries and plums that grow in plenty here
— Vilina Cariappa, member of the farming organisation
Never waste a good crisis, they say. Fancy Ganapathy of Kodagu has taken this maxim to heart. A 700-member strong association involved in producing and selling homemade items, formed at her behest, has converted the pandemic into an opportunity. The association, consisting mostly of women, produces over 500 products, including jams, jellies, chocolates, wines, pickles and hair oils.
A former lecturer, Fancy says the association specialises in producing traditional items of Kodagu. All the ingredients they use are either home-grown or sourced locally. "All the products are chemical-free and contain no artificial preservatives," she adds. While earlier, they mainly received bulk orders for weddings, functions and from resorts, the Covid-induced lockdown gave them the impetus to enter the e-commerce sector. They began marketing their products online, thus helping them reach a wider customer base and tap newer markets. Some of Fancy's students joined the organisation, mainly to help manage online sales and delivery logistics.
The Madikeri Virapet Taluk Savayava Krishi Souharda Sahakari Niyamitha, an organic farmers' cooperative, was formed in 2010 on a small scale with 27 women, to produce homemade items. This idea of selling homemade items to supplement the family income found resonance, especially during the recent months, as the pandemic resulted in job losses and pay cuts.
Prajna Ponnamma, who joined the organisation in August 2020, is now into apiculture and has already obtained 80 kg of honey. “I was not working, but had a desire to be financially independent. So, I approached Fancy, who guided me on every aspect of the business and helped me undergo training at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra," says Prajna. For Dimple Accamma, who had to quit her job due to Covid, joining the organisation has enabled her to pursue her passion for baking. “I love baking and now that’s my full-time job,” says Dimple.
Taking into account the financial difficulties of the members, Fancy started conducting counselling as well as sessions on all the nitty-gritties of the business. She apprises them of the market condition, the demand for different products, the expected turnover etc., to enable them to make informed decisions regarding production, investment and cultivation. She has successfully helped many people discover a livelihood.
Fancy encourages the members to practice integrated farming for income diversification. She also facilitates their training and helps them get the required licensing for their products. She personally trains them in the high-end technology for making jams, jellies, chocolates and squashes that she obtained through a technology transfer from the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysuru.
“When Fancy first pitched the idea of forming an association back in 2010, she highlighted how through value addition, we can earn money as well as prevent wastage of the fruits, berries and plums that grow in plenty here,” says Vilina Cariappa, a member of the organisation.
What makes their effort stand out is the stress on utilising local produce, thus giving wings to the creativity of rural women. The use of bamboo, bird-eye chillies, jackfruits, passion fruits, hog plums, garcinia gummi-gutta, oranges and several other rare fruits and berries that grow locally, has increased the value and demand of these uncommon varieties.
Word of mouth
The women, apart from making traditional items, also experiment with different combinations of ingredients to come up with their own new signature products. Most of the members also have individual FSSAI licenses for their products. They aim to use every part of a fruit to minimise wastage. For instance, in the case of passion fruit, the pulp is used to make juice, the seeds for crunches and the outer skin as cups to bake cakes.
While initially they depended on word-of-mouth marketing, their first retail outlet called Flavours’ Rural Mart in Virajpet was opened with the backing of NABARD in 2018.
“Fancy and her team approached NABARD for funding as the floods had damaged many estates in Kodagu and people had suffered severe losses. So, we sanctioned a total of Rs 2.45 lakh for setting up of the rural mart, which provided them a platform to sell all their products under one roof,” says Mundanda C Nanaiah, former Kodagu District Development Manager of NABARD, lauding the organisation’s efforts.
Through the outlet, they tap the tourism market as well. Today, they have tied up with other companies for better packaging and branding and their products are sold in different parts of the country as well as abroad.
Due to its efficient operation, Kodagu’s 'Nature’s Best Food' Cluster, the organisation’s biggest cluster, is one among the five clusters from across Karnataka to be selected by the Karnataka Council for Technological Upgradation this year to be a part of the Common Facility Centre in Kodagu.
The Centre, to be set up jointly by the union and state governments, will offer all the infrastructural facilities for testing, preparing and storing of food items in one place. Through this centre, they will be able to streamline their operations and improve the production output. “We further aim to diversify the range of items we produce,” Fancy sums up, never one to miss an opportunity.