Rural Marketing and Enterprise

JUST ABOUT EVERY NGO at some point of time would have tried introducing income generation activity as an agent for financial empowerment. Considering the efforts that have been taken, the success rate is quite dismal. Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT) is no exception. Over the years it has worked with lace making, papads, leaf plate making, pickles, tamarind de-seeding, cotton yarn spinning, etc.
The basic problem we were facing was that money which comes into the village was quickly getting out if it.
We started with papad making. It sounds pretty simple, but it is one that is giving so many problems. Everyone said, it is so easy, just ask some women who know how to do it. We did that. But if you go to a village and ask people to buy a papad, they say, it is too red, it is not crispy enough, it does not expand enough on frying.
We tried adding various things. It is now at a stage that women are selling in the local areas, but it is not creating very much employment. 6 women are working on this.
Out of our numerous trials leaf plate making has been the most successful. In this project, BCT procures dry Adda Leaves (one of the many non timber forest product) from the forests through the government run cooperative society (which has the sole purchasing rights from the tribals in the district of Visakhapatnam). However, with regard to the other products the success has been quite limited.
There are many reasons for the failure of the NGOs in enterprise development:

  • Inadequate training
  • Unavailability of raw materials
  • Lack of proper know-how or technology
  • Poor quality of the products
  • Inferior packing and packaging technology
  • Improper preservation and storage facilities
  • Poor transport facilities
  • Lack of professional marketing expertise

Over and above these, the NGOs tried doing everything by themselves. They did not involve the local traders nor did they make conscientious effort to involve primary stakeholders in running of the activities.
Based on the experience drawn upon the past and on the successful income generating models like Operation Flood (formation of milk cooperatives based on Amul) and Lijjat Papad (made by thousand of women in their homes and in their leisure), etc we decided to start a unit which would have a holistic approach to rural micro enterprise creation.

The role of the Enterprise & Rural Marketing Unit (ERMU) is:

  • Procure know-how for establishing micro enterprises
  • Train few women and conduct a pilot run of the enterprise
  • Design of proper packaging
  • Prepare project report based on the pilot run
  • Assist women in securing bank loan, where necessary
  • Setting up of the enterpriseInsistence on strict quality control
  • Purchase the entire raw materialMarket under brand name

What is the current status of the ERMU?
We have now identified four products: coir rope making, papad making, screen printing and pickle making.

Few of these are in the pilot phase and few of them are being produced regularly. In all about 27 women from four villages are involved in these activities.
Coir rope making: 15 women from one village have been trained by the people from the Coir Board, Government of India. They are using hand operated spinning wheel as against the mechanised unit due to the appropriateness of the technology. The hand operated unit is more labour intensive, does not require power which is a big problem in this remote village and finally the raw material is in abundance in the local area. Efforts are being taken to diversify the product range by training the women in making doormats, brushes, etc.

Screen Printing: Four women from two villages are involved in this activity. As it was not possible for them to spend some time in the city and learn the technique, couple of day trips were organised in which they interacted with the local screen printers. In this short time it was possible to learn just the theory. The actual work was learnt on the job. As and when there were problems, the screen printers were consulted. We have been able to produce greeting cards, bags and many job orders.

Papad Making: Ten women from one village have been trained in the technique of papad making. (Papad are wafer thin crispy circles of dough which can be eaten either by frying or roasting). Out of these three dropped out. Currently seven women are working on this activity. This unit was beset with problems due to the remoteness of the location. All the raw material as well as products need to be carried by foot for about 3 kms. To add to this the product was unacceptable to both the urban as well as to the rural markets. Each due to a different reason. After a year of experimentation and approaching various food research organisation but still we could not produce acceptable product. Ultimately we decided to approach a small institute which has a degree course in Home Science. When we made papads based on their suggestions, out came extremely good papads. This was a week ago. Now the women are quite motivated and are making plans as to how to receive raw material and supply finished product. To add to our fortunes, a new mud road has been laid to this village and the State Transport Corporation has decided to run buses every hour to the nearby town.

Pickle Making: This is a relatively new line. We have started working with two women. The training was organised by the canning centre at the local university. One woman has already made and sold about 25 kgs of tomato pickle in the last ten days in her village. We are now planning to teach her few more recipes so that she can start engaging more women in the activity

Experiments: We have now collaborated with the Home Science dept to start standardising recipes so that we would be able to start enterprises. Currently about five more products are being researched into. Two of these are nearing completion and we plan to conduct the training program these next month.

Lessons learned: One major lesson that we learned is that it is extremely difficult to:

  • Make your product acceptable to the dealer/retailer/customer and special efforts need to be taken to do so
  • Make women make and sell the products
  • Get youth interested in starting enterprises

Innovations to overcome these problems: We have now decided to change our strategies to overcome the hurdles. We would like to take up the ‘direct home selling concept’ to bypass the dealer/retailer where possible. For this one needs about eight to ten products. There is a core group of five people who want to start the network. Once we have the necessary products and production, each of these people would to introduce to five of their friends and so on. In no time we would have a substantial number which can now support these units. This would be done both in the urban as well as in the rural markets. This is called ‘growth networks’.
For the urban markets, ready-to-eat foods would be made and for the rural areas consumer products like soap, shampoo, etc.
For generating good middle men, we are planning to hold an exam in entrepreneurship and those who score well would be considered for an interview. Only after that would they be taken in as commission agents. Although, we can find a few youth who are willing to be our agents, they would value their position more if they are made to compete with others for it.


Suresh Bhagavatula works in the field of micro enterprise development in Visakha district. A chemical engineer by profession, he has worked in Tata Research Design and Development Center (Pune), and holds a Master’s in Appropriate Technology.

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