Waste side story: Project Utkarsh

Women entrepreneurs at the forefront of a business that recycles vegetable peels and fruit pulp

August 07, 2020 02:38 pm | Updated August 08, 2020 12:47 pm IST - Hyderabad

How many times would you have felt guilty about all the leftover pulp after making a cup of carrot juice? Or wondered if the thick peel of beetroot could be put to any other use? At a time when the world has come to a standstill owing to COVID-19, and amid massive unemployment among daily wagers, a group of women living in Ravidas Camp in Delhi are working non-stop to chalk out a success story in sustainable living. If these women are undaunted by the economic crisis unleashed by the pandemic and manage to place two square meals a day for their families, its thanks to Utkarsh, a project initiated by a bunch of students from Enactus Aryabhatta.

Student entrepreneurs of Enactus Aryabhatta (EA), a student-led organisation of Delhi University, focus on waste management, working to conceptualise, research and develop innovations that utilize waste and foster sustainability even as they empower the underprivileged community.

For Utkarsh, a team of 75 students worked to address the paradox of food wastage and consumption of junk food coexisting with starvation deaths, zeroing in on vegetable and fruit pulp. After research they realised they could reuse the waste pulp to prepare chips and other crisps. They started with the pulp of vegetables like carrot and beetroot which contain high amounts of fibre, minerals and antioxidants. “We use them to make savouries,” says Romaana Amir, a member of EA. Then they got down to training several women entrepreneurs and self-help groups, who readily accepted their concept. Then EA tied with juice centres in Delhi from where the pulp gets collected by teams and brought to the manufacturing units. “From the R&D stage to training ourselves, it took a little more than a year. It took another year or so to identify and teach the women,” shares Romaana.

During the lockdown due to the pandemic, women of the Ravidas camp, in the crowded and congested neighbourhood of R.K. Puram, New Delhi, put their limited knowledge to use and worked to innovate and come up with new recipes. Chanda Srivastava, Anguri Devi, Anar Devi, and Chanda Sharma are now working hard to develop recipes for cookies that can be made from orange and lemon peels, and to make interesting snacks out of spinach ( palak ).

Romaana says this zeal was achieved by attaching an entrepreneurial approach to their existing skills of cooking. Chanda Sharma says, “People around me appreciate my work as we are able to generate extra income even while staying at home. After my husband and children leave for work, I finish my chores at home and head to the production centre. There, we divide the work amongst ourselves. When I received my first pay, I was very happy and I gave it to my husband. He said, ‘Keep it, you have earned it.’ My husband is very supportive and wants me to continue working here as it adds extra income to my family,” smiles Chanda Sharma.

Another member of EA Sarthak Malhotra says, “They are delighted with the employment opportunity extended through the making of a simple delicacy and the benefit of the production unit being close to their house. The finished products are sold in college canteens and within their areas. We are however looking at marketing the products and making them available at retail stores. It is a long shot but not an impossible one.”

Chanda Srivastava, a social entrepreneur under the project says, “I have been able to save money to build my own house and provide for my family. I am looking forward to earning and supporting my husband in managing the house with the help of project Utkarsh.”

Through Project Utkarsh, these women entrepreneurs have saved over 1200 kilograms of wasted food.

Says Anar Devi, a proud social entrepreneur, “Now, I plan to look for women facing similar problems and teach them to make these chips. It will be good for them; they too will feel that they have earned something for their family. This project has potently employed more than 50 opportunity-deprived women by transforming them into successful entrepreneurs. Now, being a proactive member of my community, I take part in important decision-making affairs and reach out to form networks wherein both the societal interests and theirs can co-exist.”

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