What it takes to make rural India sustainable?
India has been termed as a developing country for quite a while now. If we look back 10 years, we have come a long way. But still, there are some red flags in this journey.
Income disparities, low per capita income, unemployment are all surging. For instance, the unemployment rate was 32.03 per cent in August 2021, which means that nearly every third young person in India is unemployed.
The most common indicator of progress is how much income has increased. This metric though is largely variable when it comes to the urban-rural fabric.
An increase in income in urban households helps them leverage the existing ecosystem – access to better healthcare, ease of living etc. However, an increase in income for the rural folks doesn’t necessarily mean an improvement in lifestyle. For them, income is just a means to meet ends.
This calls for a need for community building, formal assistance and handholding. The goal of building livelihoods is to create a sustainable ecosystem rather than increase income. It needs an engagement at a deeper level with various stakeholders and programs to develop resilience, trust and capacity.
We are proud to introduce you to our Impact Partner – Customized Energy Solutions (CES) who are intervening with communities at this level.
Electricity has now made it to remote corners of India. While there are still many uncovered parts, a significant portion of the population has access to grid supplies.
With the use of modern energy infrastructure, CES aims to provide a nexus of livelihood opportunities and help the community make sustainable choices.
CES engages with local folks to set up decentralised mills and post-processing units. This creates job employment at a local level. One processing mill generates 6-7 direct jobs and 3-4 indirect jobs.
The community ownership model instils a sense of dignity in the work people do. Establishing an organised structure and method of working in the informal sector makes people’s roles more formalised, and they begin to see themselves differently.
CES aims at using microgrids and decentralised renewable energy as a catalyst for economic development at the grassroots, thereby establishing a value chain that is environmentally friendly and economical for farmers.
They make inroads to rural villages, identify local women and entrepreneurs to pilot the project and train a cluster of didis on how to efficiently run a processing unit.
What follows next is the installation of machinery. CES adopts robust equipment through intensive market research which can be maintained and serviced at the local level. These are expensive units and are completely run by the locals. A standard mill has pre-cleaners, grading machines, destoners, milling units, solar battery combo etc.
Using these, the entire pre-processing of the raw material is done and the profit value is borne by the community itself rather than the local traders.
We cannot expect smaller village entrepreneurs to compete with big traders—in terms of volume, investments, turnaround times, or even understanding of the market. But there is local demand that they can cater to. And one way to reach them is through local retailers.
CES also provides business development strategies and market linkages. They enable the local folks to sell the produce to the retail market under their own brand. For instance ‘Bhoomi’ is a product completely free of pesticides, made by a women-led agro-processing enterprise in Jharkhand.
This framework and the supportive ecosystem helps the informal sector become more sustainable. CES stands and delivers these impactful projects from scratch.
There have been instances where CES has gone at length to improve the credit ratings of the community, instead of abandoning them at their peril. This shows the extensive support and true collaboration at the village level.
Although the set-up and running costs are completely managed by CES, credit is required for the procurement of raw materials. The mill operators need to buy pulses in raw form in large quantities from local farmers for processing.
Rang De’s Social Investors enables investees to pay farmers upfront, ensuring there isn’t any dearth of raw materials. An independent mill needs to process 10-12 tons a month. Until now Rang De has funded 3 investees with a total of Rs 13 lakh in social investments.
When we engage with communities at a deeper level they begin to understand that there are various structural issues at play that keep them where they are. More importantly, though, they realise that they have skills. Impact Partners like CES are key to unlocking the true potential of social investing.
By 2025 CES plans to set up 12 to 15 units and develop a sustainable community model for pulses processing at a decentralised level. Their work at the ground level brings self-esteem and resilience to the community.
To be a part of this social investing journey, head to http://www.rangde.in