When Ramanamma’s husband suffered a paralytic attack in 2016, she had to take on the complete responsibility of taking care of her two children and husband. The bull and the wooden ganuga, which were their primary source of income, had to be tended to. Importantly, the family needed a source of income to sustain them. It was at this juncture, that a community member from Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT), an NGO that operates in the area since 1976, stepped in. Garnering community support, BCT motivated Ramanamma to restart the sesame oil press, assuring that villagers would come only to her for oil extraction, and thereby support her in pursuing her husband’s work. A male-dominated area of work thus became a sustainable source of income for a woman and her family. The story of Ramanamma is one among many rural entrepreneurs in Vizag. Handheld and guided by BCT, community building has been the central theme for the work it does. As a result, many have benefitted, by having their quality of life becoming not just better but also sustainable.
Usually working with a rural focus, it was however the Covid-19 situation in 2019 that pushed BCT to shift gears. As the country went into a lockdown, small farmers were the worst hit, having produce to sell but no transport to take it. In fact, many were throwing away their produce, or not harvesting at all, for this reason. These small farmers, with just a few cents of land, needed immediate support. With a focus on sustainable structures, BCT started a vegetable and fruit delivery service that would supply bags of locally produced fruits and vegetables, from rural farms to the homes in Vizag. Urban Vizag came forward to support through their purchases and soon a weekly channel was put in place.
This year, as the Covid-19 crisis worsened, BCT decided to extend support to more people. Physically challenged beneficiaries were roped in to stitch masks. Small entrepreneurs, like Ramanamma, Chellayamma, Lakshmi, etc., were provided a marketing channel into Vizag. Also, physically challenged girls at the Sampoorna NGO were trained to make LED bulbs. Today, these bulbs are also a part of the weekly bag that can be purchased.
Offering fresh produce and a growing list of over 22 items, such as organic turmeric, honey, organic millets and much more, BCT’s format ensures that small farmers in Visakhapatnam District benefit. A focus on safe food practices is stressed upon, such that farmers do not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides while growing crops. Some of the products are sourced from tribal regions, while others are made by small rural entrepreneurs in Vizag, to give a fillip to the local entrepreneurial spirit. From Jowar Murukku to Gongura pickle, the list keeps adding, based on the produce that rural areas can offer.
As urban Vizag benefits from fresh, safe to eat and organic food options, its rural counterparts benefit from a steady source of income. ”There is nothing more satisfying than to see the triumphant smile of a small entrepreneur or rural farmer, and we hope to put more such smiles”, shares B Sri Ram Murty, Secretary of BCT.
This community project is fascinating, for it benefits many. From the small farmer with a few cents of land to the physically challenged woman, who wishes to enjoy a pride of place in society, all stand to benefit. And as a district becomes Atmanirbhar, or self-sustainable, it can only flourish.