Fostering rural women’s entrepreneurship with solar energy solutions. Chapter 1: An unusual Solar dryer

A project by AIWC, encouraging women entrepreneurship in rural areas through solar energy devices, was selected for publication in theGender Just Climate Solutions Award at the COP 22, awarded by WECF International and Women Gender Constituency with the financial support of the RAJA Foundation.

The principle is simple. Production of fruits and vegetables is abundant in many States of the India but much of it is lost or poorly valued because of the bad quality of transport infrastructures in rural areas and lack of storage and transformation facilities. Drying is a solution to these problems and the energy issue can be resolved by using the most immediately available energy source, the Sun. Thus, relying on 2 or 3 solar dryers, supplied free of charge (for the first) or at very low financial conditions for the second, AIWC supports rural poor and underserved women entrepreneurial groups so that, thanks to these devices, theycan market local produce in better condition.

Though such equipment is relatively expensive, their replication is relatively easy.

Therefore,we visited two dryers branches and each seems to have generated,sometimes surprising activities, around this simple tool.

A very uncommon dryer

To access this dryer, the road is long. It took an hour or so to reach this place, in a remote countryside, just 22 kilometers away from the city of of Trivandrum.

From the road, there is no clue of the presence of this dryer. To get there, we had to climb a steep path and immediately, we entered in another universe, a vegetal one. As everywhere on the coastal area of Kerala, the forest is never far away and often buildings will melt naturally amidst the trees. The one we reached looked rather poor and yet, it has an unusual history.

Outside view of the collective building

Indeed, this building was built more than 10 years ago by a group of women in a field they had acquired. This construction extends over two levels, a large room on the ground floor and a terrace on the first floor. Over time, this building has played the role of social proximity equipment. Thus, it is a welcoming place for elderly women who meet there every afternoon and the local branch organizes consultations for medical check-up of these women every month. These ladies were there, to greet us when we arrived.

A part of the elderly group welcomed in this Center

This room where they use to meet has its own history. In fact, the tables you see in the foreground of the picture above are what remains from a first entrepreneurial project of block printing on fabricactivities. Supported by the Kerala Government, this project went through all the technical requirements of the local government to be approved. Alas, the person who had to give approval moved on before the project started and his successor nevershowed the same zeal, nor the same enthusiasm, and the whole project was shelved. This illustrates, in ancartoon illustration style, how difficult it is to run a longlasting partnership between public authorities and civil society. Indeed, the solar dryers with the support of AIWC had been an opportunity to bounce back.

Two dryers are installed on the terrace.

View from the terrace among many varieties of fruit trees.

Front view of one of the two dryers which is drying mango candy

These two dryers are operated only by solar energy, though this isolated place is connected to the electric network. It works all year round and allows drying of all kinds of fruits and vegetables of which some are unknown or little known in France:

Ripe jackfruit is turned into candy.

Arrow roo is sold here in its powder form which is very nutritious.

Bitter melon also called bitter gourd or bitter cucumber transformed in this dryer into chips

More traditionally, these dryers are used also to dry mangoes, tomatoes, black pepper, in others words everything that the luxuriant nature provides in the neighborhood.

This allows them to market a wide range of packed products:

mango candy

J

Jack-fruit candy

Arrow grass powder

New project

Obviously this is only a first step. The production is still on a homemade manner. As one can see on theses pictures, packaging is rather cheap and the branch plans to invest in a small scale packaging unit including continuous sealer, nitrogen packing, bottleneck sealer in order to present product in an attractive and hygienic manner. To implement this project, the branch is looking for financial support and, as soon as this investment will be made, is expecting export opportunities.

CONTACT TO HELP THIS PROJECT

Priyadarsini Mahila Samajam A.I.W.C. Branch
Vandannoor, Russalpura P.O.
Balaramapuram 695501.
Kerala,India
e-mail muttechi@gmail.com
(SARALA KUMARI is President of Priyadarshini Mahila Samajam.)

TO GO FURTHER WITH BOTANICS
https://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/jackfruit
https://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/arrowroot

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