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 mother’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

SaaS software for building social communities within neighbourhoods

Missing Communal Groups

I’ve been living in a Delhi Development Authority (DDA) neighbourhood for nearly 20 years now. Yet, apart from small groups there is hardly any “community” feeling among most residents. One of the key issue is that people do no know each other. There are few communal platforms for them to gather under. Such platforms are often restricted to a few festivals, which are also often limited to different religious or regional communities.

Politicizing of the Resident Welfare Associations

As with most of the country, the dirty politics has even vitiated the welfare associations. And voting is limited to a very small margin of members, and just like at the national level, inept and incompetent people get elected. And most often they have little / no community agenda but rather their own one-up-man-ship.

Decisions are often taken by suppose elected members of these RWAs which are often not aligned with the priorities of the community. Several such agenda is decided by the narrow viewpoints of the elected repsresentatives themselves.

Unlike the large number of populations at the national level, there is no reason why in communities of 500-5000 houses, in cities like Delhi, an online hosted software platform cannot be used for further community voices through direct suggestion and voting of the agenda that people wish to follow.

This software platform is inspired by this motive.


Here are some features that this platform should have:

  1. Allow  members / elected representatives to raise “issues”
  2. Allow members to vote on issues raised by members / elected representatives
  3. Enable discussions around each “issue” under the same thread
  4. Log of expenditure under various heads for increasing transparency
  5. Issues being “worked upon” – conversion of up-for-voting issues to be converted to “Issues Undertaken”
  6. A profile of each resident, if they choose to disclose – for community development and engagement
  7. Allow residents to login using their Social Profiles such as LinkedIn or Facebook; and create their community profiles with specific talents or/and interests they feel they could offer their community members

Consulting Business for “Online Media Publishing Solutions”

I’m looking for a partner to help incubate a Consulting Business for Online Media Publishing Solutions. This may be a business covered under the Srijan brand, which would ensure that the business has a high chance of finding success within a short period of time, given the ecosystem and brand equity Srijan has already built.

Online Publish consulting business model
Online Publish consulting business model

The Good Food project

About 5 years ago, i had helped start-up a home-made tiffins business for the ‘help’ at my mom’s home — Puran. The first contract for about 10 tiffins + an evening snack came from Srijan (the company i promoted and run) via its employees who i enrolled into the idea of signing up for clean home-made food instead of the rather unhealthy Nehru Place food (Srijan was operating from Nehru Place then).

Puran got a loan of about Rs.30,000 from me for purchasing utensils, and tons of support from my mom — who had to manage her anxieties of him not being able to give attention to her home, but as usual we all loved Puran, and she gave in as well.

Over the course of next 2 years or so, Puran’s business flourished. With Fortis hospital being set up, resident doctors who stayed in Vasant Kunj started ordering not only their lunch but their dinner as well — in tiffins ofcourse — from Puran’s “Lakshmi Rasoi“. Each tiffin was priced at Rs.50/-, and his business scaled up to ‘100 tiffins a day’ — he had gladly told me.

I had always imagined this business to become a co-operative with more Purans joining the fray — and i had Kargil war widows of lower rank jawans, retired army cooks, in mind as potential candidates. However, life at Srijan had kept me super-busy, as usual, and the scaling of the business as a co-operative could not take off. Puran, meanwhile was bogged down with working 14 hours a day, as he did nearly everything himself, including delivery and payment collection — as the boy he had kept, he suspected was lying and stealing — tiffins went missing, payments were denied, and so on was the regular story. Given Puran’s success, a 4-5 more tiffins business sprouted in the same area where he operated from, and started eating into his margins.

Losses from theft, too much competition, and the toll of the stress took over Puran’s entrepreneurial zeal, and after about 3 years of starting this business, he decided to shut it down. Actually he handed his business and clients over for Rs.6000 per month to a competitor.

Puran evenutally got back into my mom’s home, and joined my father in helping him in his business. All good for him now, and he’s doing well. And happy.

But i am not! Argh! 🙂

The tiffins business — of supplying good hygienic food at economical prices — is unfinished business for me. While, i’ve had bouts of investing and running it like a proper ‘business‘ funded by me, my heart keeps tugging at me to make this a “co-operative” run by people at ‘bottom of the pyramid’. And i’d like to ‘volunteer’ my time on this business to offer leadership in sustaining the business for these ‘partner-suppliers‘ without ever a need to want to earn personally out of this. This would be ideal.

Let’s see when life allows this to happen again!

An alternate products portal

The central inspiration is to make available “alternate wellness products” to a large section of society. Mostly these products are manufactured in small women-self-help-groups, or my mom-pop shops, or small non-profits; even small companies; and some really large companies (such as Dabur, FabIndia, Patanjali Yog Peeth).

Giving access to markets in large cities in India to these small groups (and often with fantastic products) is the inspiration behind this portal. Ofcourse, we do not want to exclude larger brands, as they only help further the cause of large scale adoption and consumption of alternate products.

Nature of products
Ayurveda products by different brands; perishable and non-perishable organic foods; Bio-manures; Compost utilities; “difficult to find” books in various vernacular languages of India; “difficult to find” music from small and rural musicians and music companies; spiritual music and books;

Business Model
Either one can “source” and become the “supplier” of such products and run the portal; OR, one can enable suppliers to have their own shops setup in a common marketplace under one brand.

It is the latter that is the proposed business model for this portal.

We want to enable such organizations to use this portal to setup:

  1. their own online shops ( :: all products with categories under which “Naturally Pahadi” has products should get listed here)
  2. consolidate all products under categories in the larger portal brand ( :: this is a category based view, leading the buyer to click on the detail page of Rhododendron drink sold by “Naturally Pahadi”)

Promotion of the brand/portal would be the goal of this business; while the suppliers’ business will be to sell their products using this brand.

Writing articles around each of these products – collaboratively (by the community) – would be a central goal of this portal. The more organizations write, the more their products are found on Google, and the more they sell.

The portal will charge a commission on each sale; and assist buyers in ensuring that the Sellers have shipped the goods and completed the order.

Magento (commercial version) – seems to have this. If it is affordable – then buy and implement it. If it is too expensive, or features are unavailable, then there could be two routes. Build and enhance Drupal; OR build and enhance in Magento.

I imagine “SOLR generated product views” being used with Drupal 7, to “zip” the portal browsing experience, as has now been implemented at by Vivek Puri). This ofcourse, if Drupal 7 is to be used; if Magento – then am not sure if this zipping is possible or no.

Extensive “Reporting” would be made available for “seller”, for their own-orders. Different set of Reporting would be available for “portal admins” to ensure that the Sellers are shipping their orders in time, etc.

Initially, we’ll use PayPal/CCAvenue for Merchant Banking.

Payments would have to be routed to Seller and a commission routed to Portal owners. As far as i know, this can be done only using AmazonFP. For this a company has to be registered in the US, to utilize this service. If so, a company can be registered easily in the US for this sole purpose.

Sales and Marketing
The biggest challenge will be to bring Sellers onto the portal. We will have online demos available, and bring non-profits to help setup shop on behalf of local suppliers. They would be the only ones who could have capacity to organize packaging and shipping of products.

If a prototype can be created and the concept demonstrated, this is a business aptly suited for funding by Aavishkar or Ennovent, and such similar “social  venture funds”. Rajneesh would be a great candidate for leading this portal as CEO, if we can get funding; and a great resource for helping acquire funding from these sources. Infact, with the sudden frenzy of E-Commerce companies suddenly getting funding the time for launching this product is ripe.