Many stories of achievement are set in TNAU’s Post Harvest Technology Centre. PARSHATHY. J. NATH meets four happy entrepreneurs

On sweltering afternoons, people who wait at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University bus stop quench their thirst at the campus sales counter. It sells fresh musambi, amla, mango, grape and papaya juices. These are made at the Post Harvest Technology Centre by faculty members and participants of the specialised training courses for production of secondary food products.

The training programme, introduced in 2004, aims to develop entrepreneurs in the field of value-added fruit and vegetable products such as squashes, jams, juices, marmalades and pickles. “We give them hands-on training. We assist them with our research and technological inputs,” says. R. Viswanathan, HOD. “We teach them the technical side of production, and marketing and quality parameters. A few come up with innovative recipes. We test them in our lab, check if it meets food standards and give them the go-ahead.”

Farmers, women’s self help groups, homemakers and others from in and around the city come here in the hope of setting up an enterprise. And, when people have the will but no financial backing, the food incubator system comes in handy, says Viswanathan. “They can use our fruit washers, blanchers, pulpers and juicers to make jams and squashes, at a nominal cost.”

This is the best way to decrease post-harvest loss, says Viswanathan. He states that, in the last decade, these losses have come down to 20 per cent from 30 per cent due to better awareness and facilities. According to P. Banumathi, a professor in the department, secondary production of fruits and vegetables ensures that we get to consume fruits even during off-season. “For instance, fruits such as jackfruit and apple can be eaten in the form of chips and preserves, long after they stop coming to the market.”

In 2005, the Department extended the programme to produce millet-based bakery products, spice powders and confectionary. The aroma of freshly-baked bread and millet cookies wafts from the bakery unit, just outside the department. “Many farmers and their wives avail of these courses. It provides them employment during off-seasons,” says Vennila, a training faculty and professor. Ensuring a livelihood is just one of the many benefits, says Viswanathan. “Food habits have changed. We are more aware of the importance of home-made food and a millet-based diet,” he adds. Probably why many homemakers sign up for courses in baking and jam making.

(For more details about the training programmes, call 0422-6611268)

Meet the entrepreneurs

Learning nuances

When Babu Thulasiram had to quit his job in a mill, pickles came to the rescue. The training programme was a boon. “We knew how to make pickles before. But the nuances of the trade such as the right vessels, using natural preservatives such as lemon juice instead of vinegar and production techniques were new to us.” Today, Babu and his wife Murugeswari sell pickles made of ginger, tomato, chilly, amla and mango. Their 300-gm bottles and 75-gm pouches are available in many outlets. They raise their two children with money from the business.

Branding techniques

Inspired by her mother-in-law, who sold masala powders in plastic pouches, N. Ellammal decided to take part in the training programme, with her husband Nityanandan. “Everyone knows the basic trade. But few know the skill of marketing a product well,” he says. “The course introduced us to branding techniques, the procedure of procuring a license and passing quality tests,” she says. Now they have a factory where they roast idli, sambar, chilli chicken masala and coriander powders and sell them to departmental stores.

Alternative livelihood

Once K.R. Sadashivam and R. Maranan harvest grapes from their 20-acre vineyard in Madhampatti, they have their work cut out. They don’t worry about how to store the highly-perishable fruits. The brothers prepare squashes and jams from the grapes. They also prepare coconut oil and nendran chips from the coconuts and bananas on their farm. “I joined the course last year. Now, I make four bottles of squash with a kilo of grapes,” says Sadashivam. “I sell them through the year to different organic outlets. I also supply vegetables there. The department is almost like home; we can discuss our business and recipes with the faculty.”

Youth power

Whenever they get free from their classes at PSG College of Arts and Science, Vijay Raj and Nisswan Baig, students of B.Com, come all the way from Peelamedu to TNAU prepare amla juice at the food processing business incubator. We do not have the equipment or the capital to invest in machinery. So we avail of the one in the department, they say. Vijay has always aspired to be in the food industry. “My aim is to make products with health benefits. That is why I focus on amla. It is good for diabetic patients and has anti-oxidant properties.” They sell the juice to departmental stores, medical shops, beauty parlours and organic stores.