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Value-addition to harvested crop through a women-led electricity access initiative

The LEADS ragi processing unit in Perka, Khunti, has supported women to grow their earnings with the help of solar-run machinery.

A low maintenance crop, finger millet, or ragi, grows without fuss in Jharkhand. It requires little care, can survive droughts and is unsavory to pests and other common crop diseases. Ragi’s popularity has grown exponentially over the years. Its rich calcium content, low glycemic index value and gluten-free status are some of the reasons. With health benefits on its side, it is no surprise that demand for processed, ready-to-use ragi, as a cereal, is high.

Using electricity to enhance value of produce

Mandua is usually harvested between November and January. Earlier, farmers would store it in its unprocessed form for a long time. This was done in anticipation of a better selling price. However, this strategy sometimes resulted in almost 20% of the harvest getting spoilt. They eventually discovered that by processing ragi, they could not only sell it fresh in the markets, but also increase the value of their produce.

As part of the Rural Access to Clean Energy (RACE) initiative LEADS installed a 5 kW solar PV system at their Resource Centre in Perka, Khunti District in March 2019. The Resource Centre used this solar electricity to power the ragi processing unit. The women at LEAD’s ragi processing centre in Perka buy harvested mandua from these producer groups—each village has a producer group comprising of farmers who harvest ragi. The ragi is then processed into flour, packaged in standardized volumes, ready to be made available in markets, and earn them an enhanced value on the processed product.

Women-led initiative

The processing unit is run by a women’s self-help group that was started with 15 women workers. Today, close to 35 women work at this unit. They process and package the cereal with solar-powered machines. They earn an average of Rs 7000 per month.

Women are involved in every step of the way in this business strategy. They have the potential to earn extra as a producer or laborer at the unit too. The women have been able to contribute to household income. They are able to educate their children and even send them for advanced skill training.

When ragi is not being processed, the enterprising women of the Perka Resource Centre use the 5 kW solar system to power other activities such as re-usable mask and sanitary napkin manufacturing, which responds to a timely need with the advent of the COVID-29 pandemic.

To know more about the LEADS ragi processing unit in Perka, Khunti, watch this video:

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