Women's Economic Empowerment through Co-operative Farming, Vocational Training & Business Development
Part of our Baldev Community Training Program is aimed at equipping our young women laborers who have been promoted to supervisory levels, in basic management skills. We found that their challenge was to manage their fellow laborers – young women like themselves from below the poverty level. They are also trained in modern methods of agriculture such as drip irrigation, fertigation and use of machinery such as tractors.
The supervisory and management levels that each woman laborer is trained for are: Supervisor Trainee, Assistant Supervisor, Supervisor, Assistant Manager, Manager, and eventually, owners of their individual plots of land. Independent charge of each of our four farms is given to young boys and girls so that our senior managers can undertake new development activities.
We have made a major decision to move a major part of our banana production to 225 acres in an area near a dam with sufficient water. Only one part of the present total farm area will be retained for banana cultivation. The rest will be used for grape cultivation. Our long-term goal is to establish a winery for both domestic and export markets. Dr. George has visited vineyards and wineries in France and has talked to leading experts in wine-making.
In order to address the welfare of our increasing numbers of farm staff, we are improving the existing living facilities in both dormitories and single housing units. We are also establishing family housing for our permanent staff. We are building many residences using ecologically friendly building materials.
We have improved the canteen facilities in order to provide tasty, nutritious, good quality food for our resident staff. We have trained two young men, one from Karnataka and the other from Assam, in cooking. Sporting activities, such as volleyball, are arranged every evening, and movies and other programs in different languages are available from the dish antenna that we have installed. The security group from North-East India monitors the farm and they have taken the initiative to use their spare time to do gardening, artwork and cooking. Bicycles and motorbikes have been provided for managers and workers to increase productivity.
The cost of development of a 30-foot wide road through our farmland and neighboring land from Alur to Baliganapalli has been approved by the Panchayat. This will make access easier for our workers and the local population.
Dr. George has been studying the control of disease in the banana plants through the use of organic fertilizer, compost and non-toxic pesticides. Banana production will be approximately 250,000 bunches each year. Grape is being planted on nearly 50 acres.
The Foundation invested Rs.500,000/- in association with the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Board to build two check dams for rainwater harvesting. We need farming subsidies in order to develop our existing farming projects that are exclusively for empowering women and poor people. Our application for government assistance for farming is pending approval. We are also inviting private individuals and institutions to collaborate with us as partners in farming.
Senior managers from Ashok Leyland, including the Director of their Corporate Social Responsibility unit, visited our projects with a view to collaborating with the foundation on social initiatives schemes. We gave them a wish list that included an ambulance and and buses for our projects.
Our proposal for the improvement of our training center for over 200 women farmers submitted to The Shell Foundation is still under consideration. It requires an investment of $1.5 million. Indian Bank has sanctioned $0.75 million. Shell wants to explore the marketing potential of our projects and we are under discussion with them.
The Advisor to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands visited our projects with a senior colleague. Dr. Charles Wheelan, Professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago, visited our projects. He was with a group of thirteen postgraduate students, as part of their South Asian tour. They were interested in the women’s empowerment program, particularly the dynamics of operation in the farming projects.
Dean Thomas Cooley of the Stern School of Business, New York University, visited. He appreciated the business entrepreneurship among the rural poor. He said he will try to send business graduate volunteers to assist us in training poor women.
Baldev Farms harvested its first banana crop beginning October 03. 10 to 30 tons per day are harvested on an almost regular basis.
In this our initial year, we have decided to sell the bananas to the domestic markets in South India, mainly in Bangalore, Chennai and other major cities. We sell the bananas to wholesalers, mandi markets and directly to retailers. From the second year onwards, we plan to begin exports.
Our Sol brand of bananas has already gained a reputation for its superior taste, flavor and uniformity of its large size. The brand name 'Sol' means sun in Latin and Spanish. All bunches have Sol brand stickers on them. We take special care with harvesting, packing and transporting to ensure that no damage occurs. When the bananas are ripe, they are bright yellow with no black spots in almost all cases.
Our farms have provided employment for large numbers of women and others from nearby villages and faraway places. The entire proceeds of the sales are used for the benefit of the workers and other poor people in the neighboring communities through our humanitarian projects.
Baldev Farms is the second largest banana farm in South
India. Our concept of applying commercial standards to such a large enterprise
that is committed entirely to social good is unique anywhere in India
and even abroad.