Discover the inspiring journey of Jawhar Farms, where rural women entrepreneurs are transforming a tribal hill station in Maharashtra. This blog chronicles the unexpected challenges, unique innovations, and heartwarming successes in the realm of social entrepreneurship, all rooted in the vibrant culture of Jawhar.
Embarking on a mission, I found myself on an unconventional path, forsaking the allure of promotions and salary hikes to venture into the heart of the Western Ghats in Maharashtra – Jawhar, a hidden gem. This journey wasn't a mere coincidence; it was an intriguing twist of fate that led me away from the familiar urban landscapes and into the embrace of this culturally rich tribal hill station. Welcome to the story of Jawhar Farms, where the vibrant tapestry of change is being woven in the tribal hills.
Life in a Tribal Hill Station: Expectation vs Reality
My assignment led me to Jawhar, a place both fortunate and peculiar. Jawhar, located inland from Mumbai amidst the magnificent Western Ghats, defied my initial expectations of rural Maharashtra – the picturesque Deccan plateau with black soil and fertile land. Instead, I found myself in a tribal community on a hill station with red soil, grappling with water scarcity, high migration rates, illiteracy, malnutrition, unpredictable weather, and a new language, Marathi. Jawhar was unlike any place I had ever lived.
Navigating Jawhar's Climate Extremes:
Jawhar experiences an erratic climate, with extreme rainfall during monsoons and scorching heat in November. From November to February, people begin migrating due to water shortages or a lack of employment opportunities, leading to only one crop cycle per year. Farming, constituting the soul of the tribals, is predominantly organic.
Unraveling Jawhar's Exodus Puzzle: Seasonal Distressed Migration
One incident during my fellowship left an indelible mark. I witnessed families migrating, leaving villages abandoned and slipping into obscurity. Men sought jobs in the city, families left their children with grandparents, and some embarked on journeys with their small kids. Experts labelled it "seasonal distressed migration," but for me, it was a vivid reality. I witnessed the repercussions of these departures – empty schools, silent Anganwadis, and educational setbacks. The cycle repeated yearly, a relentless vortex. I was determined to work towards a solution.
Innovation for the Youth
My visits to villages, accompanied by NGO staff, provided profound insights. Amidst the captivating rural scenes of chickens, mud huts, children at play, women carrying water pots, and farmers toiling away, I was drawn to the local petty shops. Observing children scaling steep stairs to purchase 1Rs, 2Rs, or 5Rs packs of designer snacks piqued my interest. I conducted interviews and, for research purposes, indulged in those delightful 1Rs, 2Rs, and 5Rs snacks. It was delicious research! I contemplated if I could create something equally enticing, healthy, and affordable for the village youth.
Ragi Revolution: Empowering Rural Women Entrepreneurs
Conversations with NGO staff eventually led me to a girl in a remote village, 20 km off the National Highway. She possessed knowledge of food technology and aspired to experiment with food products. Collaboration was not straightforward; I had to earn her family's trust and convince them that I could help her achieve more. Over three months, I made frequent visits, purchasing her products and selling them to the NGO staff. Her confidence grew, and soon, others began to recognize her.
Launching Ragi Cookies: A Success Story
During my research, I identified Ragi Cookies as a suitable product due to the availability of Ragi and the demand for cookies in cities. After extensive market analysis and learning the art of making them, I invited her to our NGO. We embarked on an experimental journey, making cookies using a small oven provided by the NGO. Our venture was profitable from day one. Her confidence soared, and we transitioned from the NGO campus to renting a shop in Jawhar. She became independent, but I aimed for a more significant impact. Encouraged by our initial success, I started training other groups to create various millet-based cookies and snacks. My vision of providing snacks for the village children drew closer, culminating in a brilliant circular economy idea.
The Birth of a Social Enterprise: Empowering Rural Women Entrepreneurs
Why limit myself to women I had trained? Jawhar had many groups producing tribal products. Could I assist them in marketing their creations? This led to the inception of "Jawhar Farms," a brand rooted in the essence of Jawhar, inspired by Warli art that originated in the region. The vision extended beyond merely promoting tribal products; it aimed to preserve the culture of Jawhar and support Warli artisans.
Lost in Translation: My Hilarious Marathi Misadventure
Learning Marathi was an intriguing journey. Initially quiet and observant for the first few months, I gradually picked up common phrases and patterns. However, overconfidence can be a pitfall. A comical incident occurred during one of my training sessions with a women's group. As night fell, I was invited to join a family for dinner. Eager to build rapport, I accepted. Unfortunately, I found myself in the company of elderly family members who spoke only Marathi. My attempts to communicate led to humorous misunderstandings, culminating in an unexpected non-vegetarian meal for a vegan like me. I unwittingly agreed to many things, even in situations I would have never accepted in English.
Brushing the Soul of Jawhar: Warli Artistry and Cultural Reverie
As I broadened my focus from individuals to the entirety of Jawhar, the town's artistic and traditional charm began to captivate me. I underwent training under a Warli artist, learning to paint Warli designs on various canvases. Small details took on profound significance, such as the choice of brown canvas and white elements, reminiscent of the Warli tradition of using mud and cow dung on house walls and rice paste for their artistic expressions.
Living with the Heart of a Tribe: Jawhar's Communal Tapestry
I fell in love with the tribal community and their way of life. Their lifestyle, rooted in deep connections and togetherness, contrasted with our modern, disconnected world. Festivals were celebrated collectively, mourning was a community affair, and young adults had the freedom to choose their partners, making live-in relationships common.
Shaping a Sustainable Future: Jawhar Farms' Vision and Beyond
As I work towards engaging all groups involved in producing tribal products and supporting artists showcasing the region's culture, my enthusiasm grows. Life often unfolds differently than expected, but what truly matters is what we make of our circumstances. I arrived in Jawhar as a novice dreamer, aiming to establish a social enterprise. I remain committed to this vision, even if it means extending my stay beyond my fellowship. A place as beautiful and soulful as Jawhar has the potential to offer the world healthy and delectable organic products while preserving the forgotten ancestral culture of tribals.
In the heart of the Western Ghats lies a remarkable story of empowerment and resilience. The journey to Jawhar Farms, an endeavor rooted in social entrepreneurship, sheds light on the transformative power of rural women entrepreneurs. In the face of daunting challenges, from erratic climates to seasonal migrations, these women have not only persevered but thrived, crafting a sustainable future for their community. Through innovative ideas and unwavering dedication, they have harnessed the essence of tribal culture and brought it to the world. Jawhar Farms serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of rural women, reminding us that within every challenge lies an opportunity for profound change.