My Story: “As A Food Scientist In Uttarakhand, I’ve Trained 1000+ Village Women To Become Food Entrepreneurs”

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“Six years ago, I stepped into the pristine hilly terrains of Tehri Garhwal, posted as a Food Scientist at Krishi Vigyan Kendra. The mountains and her people welcomed me with utmost warmth. Though I hailed from Rajasthan, I rarely felt out of place among the hill tribes and their minimalistic lives. 

Initially, it took me a while to adapt to the local language, cuisine and lifestyle. During that time, I used to closely observe the village women with astonishment. Their daily lives know no rest – from managing the household and raising kids to farming in the family plots – they do everything without a word of complaint or exasperation on their lips. 

Yet poverty reigned in their homes. The women were hardly compensated properly compared to the amount of effort they put in. Upon keen inspection, I figured out that they lacked in two aspects – direction and connectivity.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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Emergency funds sent to 250 families

Introducing The Idea Of Self-Help Groups

They were labouring day in and day out in the fields but they got a paltry sum for their produce in the local market. I would notice them every day after my work hours and deeply felt to do something for them.

I would finish my day’s work by afternoon and head out to meet and sit with the women. I shared with them how skill training in food processing can help them earn a better livelihood. Most of them were intrigued by the idea and thus we started launching small training centres in every village.

Earlier, the government schemes and projects like Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and small-scale co-operatives only existed in official documents. The local communities were either unaware or indifferent towards these. But, once I explained to them how such a structured framework can help them learn and earn more, they consented at once.

How I Put My Food Tech Degree To Perfect Use

Soon, SHGs were formed in every village. Women of all ages, enthusiastic and ecstatic, started enrolling. Being a food scientist, I devised various cutting-edge, unique and all-natural products from the local produce, which could be easily prepared by these women.

I taught them how to prepare jellies and syrups from seasonal fruits like apricot, plum, hill orange (malta) and lemon. I knew that the alpine flower rhododendron had properties to treat cardiac ailments, so I formulated the rhododendron syrup, a popular product among conscious urban consumers.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

Rose bushes were abundant in every home in the hills. In fact, people would often be pestered by the dried flowers, petals and leaves cluttering their yards. So I decided to put the flower to better use. Our all-natural rose syrup sells like hotcake from the supermarket shelves of the cities, where finding a rose plant is a stroke of luck. I also trained our women to prepare savoury, lip-smacking pickles from fresh, chemical-free mountain vegetables.

Shaping Future & Saving Lives

My priority has not only been ensuring the maximum profits for these women but also to assure their well-being. In these regions, anaemia exceedingly persists among women and teenage girls. For them, I invented the iron laddoo – a sweet made from millet grains which is prepared by the women in SHGs and distributed across the villages by volunteers of Integrated Child Development Services.

Oorja is another of my invention, which is an energy-rich baby food infused with growth enhancers – a homemade variety for these poor families who cannot afford canned formula.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

Besides the products, I also conduct awareness campaigns on hygiene, women’s health and menstruation in schools among teenage girls. Recently I was nominated for Woman For Woman Award by WEFT for my work.

Natural & Chemical-Free Products

Our products are marketed under a series of labels, of which Hilans, named after an exotic hill bird, is the most popular. All the items they prepare are packaged and sent off to nearby towns like Dehradun and Hrishikesh. We have also gained a considerable consumer base in Delhi as well.

These days, consumers are opting for our handmade, country products over established corporate brands simply because of the quality, purity and the magical essence of the hills. These are 100% free from Maida, preservatives and chemicals of all sorts.

Organic Garhwal – our segment of grocery products and Devkaush – the label for sweets and snacks are becoming top favourites among our customers.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

Challenges Along The Way

I will say I have trained more than 1000 women across almost 30 villages in Tehri Garhwal. But, unfortunately, 200 among them have succeeded to sustain themselves in 7 of our most active SHGs. Many of them were old who dropped out due to age-related health issues, while others were housewives and mothers who conceded to the societal pressure that frowns at a woman’s independence.

The first three years were hardest for me. Convincing, and mostly sustaining the women were no cakewalk. I was on the verge of giving up, disappointed at myself. But soon, my tireless efforts of three years bore fruit, as the few gritty women who managed to stay behind, raised considerable profit around 2015. As the news of their success spread, more and more women poured in to join the SHGs.

A Commoner Who Reached The Zenith

I never imagined that I would be involved directly with any kind of social work. My focus had always centred around my career and I had little time for anything else. But, now when I look back, I feel that there was a calling inside me which subconsciously inspired me to devote myself to some greater good.

I wasn’t much fascinated by the stories of extraordinary achievers, who were blessed with inborn talent. But, I felt truly inspired by the stories of commoners who have attained unprecedented heights by sheer hard work and zeal. I wanted to be someone like that.

I have received quite a number of prestigious awards – both international and national. My name has featured time and again in the media in the past couple of years. I only hope I can continue with the work I am doing and bring a true change in the lives of these women.”

– Kirti Kumari, Food Scientist, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Tehri Garhwal

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote Is Distributing 40,000+ Meals Per Day In Mumbai During Covid-19 Lockdown

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Every global crisis affects every country in a different way depending on their socio-economic background. The COVID 19 pandemic hit India straight in its gut. After the lockdown daily wage workers and people who are underprivileged have been rendered out of their jobs. This has ultimately pushed them to an acute financial crisis so much so that even being able to afford two meals a day has become impossible. While we all wait for normalcy to bring us back our sanity, the financially disadvantaged people on the streets are fighting both the pandemic and hunger.

In a scenario like so, a number of social groups have come forward to help in whatever way they can. One of the worst hit cities is Mumbai, where 5 lakh migrant workers, the homeless and underprivileged residents of slums and chawls, waiting endlessly for normalcy to return., an initiative by is cooking food and delivering them to those in dire need, every single day.

“” that was launched in the city of Mumbai on March 29th, is one of its kind people-driven movements that has been running hall and hearty by the people coming from all across. It is that classic example of solidarity where people from all backgrounds, cultural and social has come together to ensure that every mouth is fed.

Brains behind KhaanaChahiye
Top : Pathik Muni, Ruben Mascarenhas. Below: Munaf Kapadia, Shishir Joshi

How does work

What’s different you ask? has built a capacity of preparing over a whopping 50000+ meals on a daily basis by activating the closed kitchens on several Mumbai routes. Pathik Muni, who has been particularly invested in the mission says, “ We crowdsource demand on hunger pockets and then map it to supply-side by activating closed kitchens. Our partner NGO “Project Mumbai” with reach to the relevant stake holders in Government departments helps us facilitate permissions to activate these closed Kitchens with a turn around of 24 hours. Parallelly we raise funds to map the demand.”

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Emergency funds sent to 250 families

Areas of food distribution in Mumbai

The food that is prepared is not just hygienic but also fits the calorie count that is sufficient for a person to get him through the day. Every meal consists of daal-rice, aloo-sabzi, chole rotis, veg pulav etc. has a volunteer-driven collective drive in various areas of Mumbai where people in large numbers have come forward to contribute in the many ways possible. So far the initiative has covered the Bandra to Dahisar route on Western Express Highway, Sion to CST and underprivileged pockets between Mankurd to Kurla on Eastern Express Highway, Juhu to Dahisar on Linking road, a cluster of 1100 labor camps near Mumbai Central and a part of Dharavi Slums.

If you want to volunteer in Mumbai kindly reach out to [email protected]

Food distribution areas  in Mumbai by

  1. To beggars & homeless
    • below the flyovers between Bandra to Dahisar on Western Express Highway,
    • between Juhu to Dahisar on Link road
    • below the flyovers between Ghatkopar to CST
    • under privileged pockets between Mankurd to Kurla.on Eastern Express Highway,
  2. To labour camps
    • a cluster of 1100 labour camp near Mumbai Central
    • a cluster of 3000 labour camp near Govandi
    • a cluster of 2000 labour camp near Mahul
    • a cluster of 750 labour camp in Colaba
  3. Parts of Dharavi Slums towards Cotton Green.
  4. Over 5000 meals in labour camps at various location identified and provided by the Assistant Commissioner,
  5. Serving food to over 5000 meals in Worli and Bandra on request of the local MLA and Corporator.

Immense demand of food in next 10 days

The intent of the movement is to continue the drive of feeding the needy in these difficult times at least until the lockdown is lifted by the government. However, as the days are proceeding, initiative has identified more and more hunger pockets as a result of which the demand for food is just rising since the time it started. To give a perspective of the recently emerged roadblock, Pathik says, “Nine days back, we started with 1200 meals and we are already catering a demand of 40,000+ as of today. We have corporate donors for most of our requirement, but as the demand for food is rising, we are now looking to feed 5000 people in next 10 days, which turns out to be 1,00,000 meals. Therefore we need to now raise a sum of Rs 25,00,000/- which is huge and we really need the support of more people.”

To raise the funds, initiative has come together with Efforts For Good and The Logical Indian to share this concern with our community members because as a citizen-driven movement, the initiative needs more and more people to come forward and a set a sum aside to keep the initiative going in its full glory so that there are no impediments coming in the way of feeding every mouth in these difficult times. Additionally, one can also contribute by sharing the word with friends and families. COVID 19 is difficult for all, the least we can do is to contribute so that the struggle to cope up with the pandemic does not add up to the struggle to cope up with hunger as well.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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