Mahua flower based wines

The Mahua drink is reportedly so delicious that Felix Padel, a visiting professor of anthropology at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) is of the opinion that ‘scotch and wine could face a tough competition in India if local varieties like mahua… are made available in their unadulterated form.’  This popularity and love for the Mahua among enthusiasts hints to the potential of business around the Mahua tree, that can help:

i. increase incomes of tribals;

ii. popularize Mahua drinks among and give legal access to the general public;

iii. set quality standards for Mahua beverage, and;

iv. combat deforestation.

~ By Natalia P Hule :

The idea that wines based out of Mahua flowers could be a viable business opportunity, a potential to have a wine rooted in India compete with wines around the world, increase sustainable income for tribals, and combat deforestation at the same time — is surely an exciting one.

A perfect case for a social-entrepreneurship business that i am interested in launching.

In my quick googling i found papers published on the topic of wine-making with Mahua, specifically this one titled “Mahua Wine Preparation: Effect of Location of variety, temperature of fermentation and additives on the Physico-Chemical and Sensory Qualities” by Dr. Neelima Garg.

In her conclusion, Natalia P Hule, points out that:

…the Govt. of India is trying to promote “Wines of India” and Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority has been entrusted to develop a strategy. The suggestion for large scale commercial production of tribal Mahua wine, under the auspices of a Farmer Producer Company, finds resonance with the policy of the Government of India with regards to wine. The implementation of this idea needs further elaboration without a doubt. Currently, FPCs are not known to do big business in India. FPCs for local brews like Mahua liquor, rice beer, guava wines, etc can change this scenario. If successful, the tribal belt will see great growth of income and our traditional brews will make it to the tables of the well-heeled.

Leaving wine-making to a government body or to FPCs is not a viable answer to achieve either of the the objectives of “promoting Wines of India” or use Mahua wines as a means to promote tribal income generation. In my free-markets worldview, and just as is the case with rural education being transformed by small privately run schools, if Mahua wines have to achieve their potential the it has to be led by several privately run businesses.

Creating a chain of privately-run non-formal rural schools

Srijan Foundation’s non-profit school programme

For 3-4 years starting 2005 we had run 2 rural schools in Odisha. The first one started at the behest of the domestic help in my mohter’s home (a family member to us now), Puran Chand Swain, who was appalled by the state of the government schools in his village during a visit back then, and suggested that we start a school for the village kids in his village.

Through Srijan Foundation Trust we were already running a non-formal school since 2001 from Vasant Kunj for kids of families from lower-economic backgrounds in the Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi, in which Puran had been studying as well. This was run and led by Col. Ramakrishna (retd) with support from a few motivated retired government professionals and teachers in our neighbourhood.

In Odisha, we had started in Nadakhand village and later in Kumarpada village — both in Puri district, about 1.5 hours drive from Bhubaneshwar Airport. We shut down these schools after 3-4 years, as in one, the set of teachers were using this not to teach but as a source of income.

The other in Kumarpada was running brilliantly by a girl called Pratima Swain. She taught about 100 kids daily in 3 batches. We shut down because Pratima got married and moved to a city in Odisha.

Primary Education Revolution in India

Recently, i’ve been reading “The Indian Renaissance : India’s Rise After a Thousand Years of Decline” by Sanjeev Sanyal. Some very interesting excerpts from the chapter here:

Between 1990 and 2003, the primary school enrollment rate went up from 80% to almost 100% of the relevant age group. Even socially backward states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are now registering gross primary enrollment rates of over 90%. The shift is even more dramatic for girls where the proportion has jumped from 64% to 96% during this 12 year period. It is also significant that 63% of the students stayed on till middle school in 2003 compared to barely 42% in 1990.

What has caused this change? The cumulative impact of years of effort by the government (under the Sarva Shikha Abhiyan), NGOs, religious charities and dedicated individuals has been an important factor that has engineered this change.

What has really tipped the balance in recent years has been the growth of fee-charging rural schools by private parties (sometimes in conjunction with NGOs and religious oganizations, but often purely as private commercial ventures).

Small numbers of privately run schools have long existed in rural India but their numbers have grown explosively since the late nineties. They are usually quite modest affairs — charging less than Rs.80 per month (about $2) and have less than a hundred students each. However, they sprung up across rural India on private initiatives of thousands of small local entrepreneurs (not dissimilar to what we saw in the cable television industry). James Tooley and Pauline Dixon were amongst the first to highlight this phenomenon, and their findings have been confirmed by subsequent studies.

KISS — A schooling initiative in Bhubaneswar doesn’t leave it to government, seeks to be the change agent

Then serendipitously i read about Bibek Debroy’s article in Indian Express on KISS and KIIT rural schools in Odisha.

KISS was started in 1993 with 125 tribal students and some financial support from the ministry of tribal affairs.

Today, there are 25,000 tribal students, from 62 poor tribal communities (13 primitive tribal groups). Most, though not all, are from Odisha. For these students, who are poor and first-generation learners, education is free, from kindergarten to postgraduation. Since schooling is residential, board, lodging and healthcare are also free. Compared to many schools, private as well as public, the KISS track record is rather good — gender ratio, retention rates, pass percentages, integration of vocational education, sports and extra-curricular activities. More specifically, the school has 19,057 students — 9,044 girls and 10,013 boys. The college has 5,994 students — 3,204 girls and 2,790 boys. As news about KISS spread in the deprived and disadvantaged catchment area (Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh), there has been demand for enrolment in it. I was told there are around 50,000 applicants, even after filtering for poverty.

Since there are no doles and handouts from outside, the KISS model works only if there is internal cross-subsidisation. And that happens to be with KIIT, which was set up in 1992 with Rs 5,000 in funding. But that expansion of the acronym — Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology — is in the past. Since 2004, KIIT has been a university, having taken the deemed university route. KIIT University now has 11 different schools, spread over 400 acres and with 20,000 students.


Four Pursuits’ Venture in Rural Schools

These two insights have led me to believe that we must not run our non-formal schools (via Srijan Foundation Trust), which we want to re-start in Odisha as a social / non-profit initiative. What if we could start this as a private initiative? That would enable us to scale up.

This reminds me of a TED Talk by Michael Porter where he talks on “Why business can be good at solving social problems“.

So, here’s a commitment to start a chain of branded rural schools in India, largely focussed on Primary Education teaching English, Maths (in English) and a local language of the region (Odiya, Hindi, etc).

Inviting entrepreneurs from all around the country who wish to start their own small private schools branded by as a venture by Four Pursuits, to:

  1. get incubated
  2. get institutional training & support
  3. get better price from children’s families for increased self-sustainability of the school

HoneyFlow — revolutionary technology for scaling up of bee-keeping / honey production

A revolutionary design for bee-keeping and harvesting honey without the difficulties of bee-keeping and without disturbing the bees either; designed by this father-son Australian duo is going to revolutionize bee keeping around the world.

I’ve written to them for becoming distributors for them in India; so far they’ve declined any offers for distributorship as they have over 25,000 retail orders from bee-keepers around the world already.

Here’s the pitch on their website :

Turn the Flow™ Key and watch as pure, fresh honey flows right out of the hive and into your jar.

No mess, no fuss, no heavy lifting, and no expensive processing equipment.

Through the clear end-frame view, you can see when the honey is ready without opening up the hive.

The extraction process is so gentle, the bees barely notice at all.

Our revolutionary Flow system makes the extraction process far less stressful for the bees and so much easier for the beekeeper.

Two videos on this revolutionary technology

Earthy Wisdom – Women organic farmers of eastern UP show the way

With her one-acre farm, Ramrati and her husband Rambahal are able to sustain their 12-member family throughout the year and earn a monthly income.

————————With her one-acre farm, Ramrati and her husband Rambahal are able to sustain their 12-member family throughout the year and earn a monthly income.


With her one-acre farm, Ramrati and her husband Rambahal are able to sustain their 12-member family throughout the year and earn a monthly income.

At a time of widespread concerns about the crisis situation faced by an increasing number of farmers, the remarkable achievements of some women organic farmers have appeared like a ray of hope in Gorakhpur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Prabhavati Devi is one such farmer based in Dudhai village (Sardarnagar block). Along with her husband Suryabhan she owns one and a half acres of land. It is a very small farm, but this family utilised it in such a well-planned way that this small piece of land provides nutritious food to the 10 member family all through the year, apart from earning them a steady cash income all through the year. In addition, the cost of cultivation is kept very low. The quality of grain, vegetables and other produce is very good as no chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used. Hence the vegetables grown here have many eager buyers.

Another interesting aspect of this family is that while all members make their contribution, the leadership role of Prabhadevi is clearly and easily accepted. This became obvious from the way in which she provided us all the details and guided us in the farm at the time of our visit. Prabhavati, 53, follows the ‘food first’ approach by trying to meet as many of her family’s food needs from the small farm. So not only her family’s grain (rice, wheat, maize) and vegetables (over 20) but also many pulses, oilseeds and spices are grown on this small field. Every nook and corner is utilised in a judicious way to grow some food crop or the other. The way in which one plant can support another crop – for example by providing shade – is kept in mind while growing various diverse crops. Fruit trees like mango, banana, jack fruit, bel, papaya, mulberry, lemon and pomegranates also have a place in the farm. Medicinal plants like tulsi and jwarankura have a place of honour in the fields.

All this is nice, but obviously Prabhavati cannot ignore the cash needs of her family. So, various crops are planned in such a way that beyond the family’s needs, a cycle of vegetables, fruits and other crops for the market is ensured. Prabhavati has also leased a small plot on sharecropping basis to grow groundnuts for the market.

When an attempt was made to count all the crops grown by her on the small farm, more than 50 crops could be counted. Fuel wood and small timber needs were also met by the bamboo grown. In addition there were three buffaloes and four goats. Last but not the least important component of Prabhavati’s success is how she makes judicious use of local resources to provide her farm inputs and does not purchase any fertilizers or pesticides from the market. She and her family prepare their own compost. Here also they improvise – when they could not easily buy cement for the composting tank, they made do with branches and bamboos from their own field. To prepare pest-repellants, Prabhavati uses neem and dhatura plants as well as cow’s urine. Her main cash expense is on diesel for the borewell.

Prabhavati inherited a field of low fertility, but her farming methods have improved the fertility of soil. This was achieved at a time when elsewhere complains of nutrient depletion of soil are common. Prabhavati has also trained other women in organic farming practices, something she has gained knowledge about after nearly 13 years of such farming.

The pattern of successful organic farming followed by Ramrati in Sarpathan village (Compereganj block) is somewhat similar. Using her one-acre farm in a very careful way, Ramrati and her husband Rambahal are able to provide nutritious, wholesome food to their 12-member family throughout the year, and in addition earn a monthly average income of Rs. 3000.

Ramrati, like Prabhavati, clearly plays a leadership role in the farm. She also uses innovative ways for getting her banana (and other fruit) crop market-ready so that the use of harmful chemicals can be avoided. In recent years, Ramrati has emerged as a much-in-demand master-trainer of sustainable mixed farming.

Similarly, Dhaneshwari and Sonpati of Avadhpur village, Shanti Devi of Dudhai village as well as other women farmers of this area have rich experiences of low-cot, environment-friendly highly diverse and productive farming. What is common to all these women is that they were all contacted some years back by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG).

They attribute their exposure to alternative farming practices and their subsequent success largely to the guidance they received from the organization. But as the director of GEAG, Shiraj Wazih says, “We just provided some training, ultimately it is their own dedication, hard work, earthy wisdom and on-the-work innovativeness which gave these good results.”