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Empowering rural India through community-led microenterprises

CES experts interact with rural women in Rikwa village for encouraging them to cultivate locally grown raw material for processing.

To make the economy more sustainable, livelihood technologies, both farm and non-farm must be integrated with decentralized renewable energy technologies. This step will empower local communities to take an active role in improving their quality of life thereby strengthening the overall economy. One such attempt is underway in Rikwa Village, Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand.

NITI Aayog, India's apex planning body has designated 19 out of 24 districts in the State of Jharkhand as aspirational districts. The idea behind this classification is to fast-track the development of such districts and get them into mainstream development as quickly as possible.

Discussing with local team on setting standard operating procedures.

Along the same lines, Customized Energy Solutions (CES) has undertaken an initiative for boosting the economic development in this region. Under its Microgrid Initiative for Campus and Rural Opportunities (MICRO), CES has set up a 5kW solar energy system with a 10kWh lithium-ion battery energy storage system.

The project is aimed at working with local communities to understand local vegetation and help them with necessary small-scale decentralized processing machinery/ microenterprises that will be owned and operated by local women entrepreneurs.

Setting up the microenterprises with the help of local villagers.

Community-led small-scale enterprise

Through this small-scale community-managed microenterprise model set in Rikwa village, the energy generated from the microgrid is used to power versatile daal (lentil) processing unit for hulling of pulses (tur, chana, masoor, urad, and moong). The plant at full capacity processes 20 tons of pluses a month, generating savings of about ₹100,000 (post deduction of the expenses incurred while operating the plant).

A unique feature about the microenterprise is that it is entirely managed by the women of the Rikwa village. They are engaged at all levels of activity -- starting from curing the raw material, grading, milling, sorting to packaging and storing. A few have also helped with marketing the product at local markets. In addition to generating local employment, the microenterprise has helped in creating an additional source of income for the community, which can be spent on education and healthcare of the children and family. The initiative has also led to the building of morale and self-esteem among the women of the village, who got to experience that they too can run a successful enterprise while taking care of their household responsibilities.

Local team (R to L) – Kiran Devi, Sunita Devi, Manju Devi, Saro Devi and Suman Devi.

The story of Kiran Devi

Kiran Devi is one of the women in Rikwa, whose life has transformed since the MICRO initiative was launched in the village. Kiran has been successfully running a small-scale DRE-powered milling machine for the processing of lentils. The small-scale agri-processing plant operated and maintained by her, along with other local women, has allowed her to earn an income that is now being utilized for the education of her children.

"We desire to see lives transformed and this program is a step in that process allowing rural women entrepreneurs to not only provide for themselves and their families but also to help their communities through improved access to electrical infrastructure and equipment, and training to effectively use that infrastructure," said Stephen Fernands, President of Customized Energy Solutions.

"We are grateful for the openness of these communities in welcoming us and putting in great efforts to make these initial steps successful." 

The overall system set-up in the village.

Microenterprise unique features

Encourages local production of raw lentils

  • Locally processed using clean and green energy
  • Unpolished products – retaining maximum nutrients
  • The entire operations from raw material cultivation – drying – processing- packaging and sealing is performed by Women Sakhi Mandals of Jharkhand, effectively using social capital through women-led enterprises.
  • Pesticides- and chemical-free product 

Way forward

In India, where small farmers struggle to sell their agricultural produce at a reasonable price, it has been observed that small-scale agriculture processing can be a transformational project enabling locals to supplement their agriculture income. If such microenterprises were to be deployed across 700+ districts of India, it is safe to say, the aspiration of becoming a $5 trillion economy would not be a distant dream. 

CES MICRO – Microgrid Initiatives for Campus and Rural Opportunities

The MICRO initiative was launched in 2016 for developing a real-time monitoring system for microgrids and has analytics-driven data insights that can be used for optimizing the life of an asset (especially batteries).

Other unique features of MICRO

  • Integrating economic development with microgrids
  • Transparency of data between the funding agency and project developer (developed real-time data monitoring system in-house)
  • Periodic reporting for predictive maintenance to microgrid developers
  • Bringing equipment supplier in the frame for any quality or performance concerns
  • Aggregation of funding and new site opportunities
  • Better return on assets 
Author : Nitin Akhade
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