A majority of the people in Kannur district of northern Kerala are dependent directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood. The main crops grown are coconut, cashew, pepper, paddy, mango, banana, rubber and arecanut.
As elsewhere in Kerala, farmers here are unable to generate sufficient income to support their families by growing crops alone. Enhancing income of farmers through value addition, product diversification, and entrepreneurship development have been the thrust areas of the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK)of Kannur district, Kerala agricultural University.
“Very often value addition and product diversification are easier said than done because of numerous constraints in micro scale rural enterprises. The biggest constraint is the mindset of farmers. They lack confidence. Lack of technological know-how, high cost of machinery, insufficient capital, absence of hassle-free credit, taxation rules and food safety concerns create fear in their minds,” says Dr. Abdul Kareem, Programme Coordinator.
“In 2007 we started grooming seven women into an SHG, named 'Pulari' to produce innovative value-added products utilising the facilities of our Kendra, its food processing unit, and to serve as a constant source of motivation to other similar groups.”
The biggest challenge in the beginning was to ensure an assured income to the SHG to sustain them in the production unit.
This was made possible by offering one third of the income generated based on an MoU between the KVK and the SHG. The expenditure for running the unit was met from the revolving fund of the Kendra, and the income generated was ploughed back into the revolving fund.
Tailored to fit
The available value addition technologies by and large were amenable for either lab scale or for very large scale production. Therefore, wherever necessary, technologies were tailored to fit into the micro-scale environment and refined to result in quality production.
“For instance, in Kerala, virgin coconut oil is prepared traditionally by hot processing, which has lot of flaws.
“We refined the process by making interventions at various stages such as milk extraction, settling, heating and filtration, to suit micro enterprises,” explains Dr. Kareem.
The Kendra also sensitised the entrepreneurs on the importance of branding since it is not the product, but the brand that was being sold.
For instance, the KVK branded white pepper as “Panniyoor White Gold” as the Kendra is located in Panniyoor region and this place is known world-wide for hybrid pepper.
The incubation centre guides the entrepreneurs to create brands, register them, obtain licences and advertise.
The first cashew apple (otherwise wasted, now gets priced) processing unit in the State, under the brand name “Tomco,” emerged due to the efforts of the Kendra.
It also set up a loan window with a tie-up with State Bank of India, a first of its kind in India in its premises.
“The purpose of this loan window is to make available hassle-free loans to willing entrepreneurs in agriculture and allied sectors.
“This loan window, right in the campus, serves as a single outlet for availing all the three major components for setting up an enterprise, namely, training, credit and assistance like subsidy,” says Dr. Kareem. The KVK offered one of its staff rooms to open the loan window. The first loan through the window was advanced to a women entrepreneur trained by the KVK for opening a banana fibre extraction and handicrafts unit. She also received financial assistance from the District Industries Centre (DIC).
A mall was also set up in the campus to display and market the branded value added food products from its food processing unit in its final marketing form, in attractive containers, packets and with labelling.
More than 2.8 tonnes of value-added products worth Rs 36 lakh have been marketed through the mall in the last 10 months (December 2011-September 2012).
After paying the wages for the sales persons, entrepreneurs could earn Rs. 3 lakh as the value of their products.
For details contact Abdul Kareem, Programme Coordinator, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kannur, Kerala Agricultural University, Kanhirangad PO: 670142, email:firstname.lastname@example.org, mobile: 09995020782.