COVID-19 outbreak forced businesses to shut down. The world economy crumbled down to control the spread. As a result, the farmers in rural India suffered a huge setback with their produce wasted in the void of operating markets. Moreover, there was barely any scope of employment for migrant workers returning to their villages. Meghalaya faces an even worse situation with the rising number of unemployed youth. The crisis required a holistic-locally available solution. In times as trying as these, A•bani has proved to be a game-changing socio-economic reform.
A•bani means “Of the Farm” in the Garo language and “Earth” in Sanskrit. It is an initiative working on livelihood enhancement in the rural areas of Meghalaya. A•bani is an initiative by Anant Learning and Development Pvt Ltd founded by Ajit Singh, who is an Ashoka Fellow. The project reboots the rural economy, generates local livelihoods, and creates a local self-sufficient sustainable model. It ensures fresh farm produce does not go to waste due to a lack of markets. In this process, it creates livelihoods related to the local non-agro businesses through packaging, storing, and accounting for the farm produce.
The venture procures fresh farm produce from the farmers of Meghalaya and transports them to the primary collection points. This prevents any exploitation of the peasants by the middlemen who give meagre rates in return for their hard labor. The produce is then transported to the main storage facility in Shillong by the local villagers, the transport is done via personal vehicles thus provides them job opportunities. The perishable items are sent to the local markets for the end consumption by the people while the non-perishable items are processed in the local processing centers by rural youth with adequate skill and technical expertise. The inventory management so mentioned also invites employment of all kinds.
Distribution to other states in the country remains a challenge from the tough terrains of Shillong. Hence, they transfer the items to Guwahati and then ship them to other states with the help of transporting partners. A•bani envisions to provide great benefits to the village livelihoods through their local processing centers. The centers themselves layout employment opportunities to the people. Alongside this, it also plans to ensure constant electricity supply to the village households through the power grids set up to supply electricity to the processing units.
They have buyers in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Delhi NCR and are also working on a Mobile App. Additionally, They are building a similar project in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in collaboration with the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology.
An avid agricultural enthusiast, Mr Singh has been actively working in building employment ecosystems in rural India. We had a short conversation with him to know more about this initiative and it’s the current plan of action. Here is how it went:
“We have collaborated with Hill Farmers Union (HFU) which is a local group in Meghalaya. Approximately 250 farmers from the union are currently working under A•bani,” said Ajit.
A•bani works on reinventing the ecosystem based on three aspects– dairies, horticulture, and freshwater fisheries. For these, we have the assistance of partner organizations such as the Australian Dairy Advisory Consortium, Jal Jivika Sector for Aquatic Livelihoods, Ashoka Innovators for Learning, and UNDP Northeast.
Food is among the essential items permitted for shipment across the country so transportation of products didn’t pose a problem. But as the lockdown forced workers to return to their native states, it gave them the right moment to upscale the project and create supply chains. The goal, however, is to make to them self-efficient economically. Mr.Singh is confident of this to happen soon. “We are more than ready to help them set up their processing centres. We’ll assist them with the relevant training and market their produce. Once the native communities become sustainable the local processing units will be handed over to them for operation. “