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Sanjay Bhattacharji, Impact Fellow- Japan India Transformative Technology (Salzburg Global Seminar) & Founder/ Director of Teplu Learning Private Limited, a startup incubated by IIT Madras Incubation cell, which sets up dairy products manufacturing units to increase employment of women in villages.

In a candid chat with Dr Anil Jaggi, Editor-in –Chief, CompanyCSR (leading CSR News & Views Portal), Sanjay spoke about his journey & initiative to transform local economy  by  increasing  income opportunities  for  rural women in India through ESG Solutions.

Q: What problem is your company solving in Indian villages?

Female labour force participation is a driver of growth, and therefore, participation rates indicate the potential for a country to grow more rapidly. India’s female labour participation rate looks like a steady downward curve: From 32% in 2005 to 19% in 2021. Unpaid work, particularly by women in Indian villages, is a complex issue and one of the key reasons for this is the lack of economic opportunities in villages. We are trying to solve this problem through ESG solutions in micro-dairy processing units run by women.

Q: How does the project operate in remote areas?

We empower rural women workers through practical environmental, social, and governance (ESG) measures at micro-milk processing units owned and operated by women in the villages. These units provide employment and income to women and are expected to generate a larger (indirect) impact within their families, community, and environment. We provide end to end solutions in dairy product manufacturing right from feasibility studies, equipment, training and upto market linkage of dairy products. Using our technology and handholding, over 15 kinds of dairy products can be manufactured such as Paneer, artisan cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, buttermilk, etc

Q: What problem is your company solving in Indian villages?

We set up micro-dairy processing units in villages for women self-help groups (SHG) through financial support obtained from charitable foundations or philanthropists. These units start production with 200 to 250 litres of milk per day and are scaled upto 500 to 1000 litres per day. Land, building and working capital is made available by the SHG or Gram Panchayat. We set up micro-labs in the units for milk testing and provide training to procure milk and conduct tests on a daily basis. Training on various aspects such as dairy technology, product development, good manufacturing practices, good hygiene practices, cost accounting, record keeping, marketing etc is provided over a period of 6 months. The unit procures milk from known sources in the neighbouring villages after which it is tested and processed as per the production schedule of the day. Suitable equipment and cold storage is provided to the unit to manufacture and transport the finished products to customers by maintaining the cold chain. Daily procurement, production and sales records are maintained in the dairy units and they are audited by experts.

Q: How many such units have you set up and what is their status?

We set up two micro-dairy products manufacturing units in Maharashtra and Gujarat in the past one year. Currently, the units process around 300 litres milk per day and manufacture fresh, hygienic products such as paneer, ghee, khowa, shrikhand etc. Their products are sold to bulk buyers in nearby towns. The unit employs women who were mostly unpaid farm workers. Around 35 -40 women have been trained on various aspects such as dairy product manufacturing, good hygiene practices, costing of products, marketing etc. Women at the dairy plants now experience a newfound self-esteem as dairy entrepreneurs shaping their own future. They’ve also gained recognition from both male counterparts and fellow villagers.

Q: How is the Japan India Technology Transformation Network (JITTN) & Salzburg global aiding the project on ESG solutions?

In 2023, Salzburg Global Seminar invited a select group of people from Japan and India to Salzburg, Austria. Our group deliberated upon various strategies that can be developed under the ESG framework to reduce emissions, improve the workplace and engage the rural community, all this while improving the livelihood of women through micro-dairy units. Salzburg Fellows from Japan visited the dairy plants being run by women in Maharashtra and conducted research on how to mobilize and support community linked initiatives. Various action points have been developed such as creating a multipurpose facility in the villages to provide health assistance to family members of women, veterinary assistance to dairy farmers and virtual interaction of children with teachers and resource persons in Japan.

Q: What are some of the challenges you faced while making these dairy units economically viable?

In the villages, power outages at times leads to disruption of work. Hence, we are planning to provide gensets for contingencies and also liaising with the local authorities to continuously supply electricity to the plants. At times, the women face difficulty in getting regular supply of LPG cylinders. When it comes to marketing of dairy products we have found that the women are shy and not comfortable talking to strangers. Regular mentoring and handholding should help in preparing the women to face the market. We are working at creating a formal work environment while retaining the rural community values and essence.

Q: What is the way forward for such projects for women in villages?

We are in the process of scaling up the existing dairy plants to upto 1000-2000 litres of milk processing per day. At the same time we are taking steps to engage the community and reduce emissions. My vision is to set up one such sustainable dairy unit in each tehsil in India in the next 10 to 15 years. We are looking forward to get support from multilateral agencies in Japan, the government and CSR organizations working in the livelihood space in India to help us scale the initiative.
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