Reeja K, 49, who lives in Chenoli, Kozhikode, is like any other mom. She wakes up early to get her three sons ready for school. Once she waves off her children, she prepares lunch for when her husband, a house painter, returns at 2 PM in time to receive the kids after school. This clock-like routine has been in place for a long time as Reeja joins her team of co-workers, other home makers like herself every morning at 10. They all work with Subicsha, an organisation that manufactures agri-based products.
Reeja is part of 7,000+ women whom Subicsha has positively impacted.
Founded on 31 October 2003, Subicsha is a social enterprise in Nochad, Kozhikode district in Kerala, supported by the central and the state government. This social enterprise has also received patronage under the Kerala state government’s ‘Kudumbashree’ initiative aimed towards eradicating poverty in the state.
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No wonder then that in 2006, when Subicsha converted into a producer company, most women employees invested in the shares of the company.
Coconut Waste and the beginning of Subicsha
“The Block Panchayath had started a coconut facility where we were manufacturing coconut oil. However, there was a scarcity of coconut at the time as we were finding it difficult to source coconut efficiently from farmers,” says Mr. Kunhammad, 59, the founder.
The idea behind Subicsha started with the idea to make maximum use of the coconut that was available since they were already facing a scarcity of supply. “Although, we made coconut oil, we saw that the shell, the husk and the water was getting wasted,” he adds.
The project team discussed this with Dr. Saji Gopinath from IIM Kozhikode and officials from District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), seeking inputs from them about what are the different products they can manufacture with coconut waste. After the rough draft of the project was prepared, he discussed it with women from different Self Help Groups (SHGs), farmers, vendors, government officials and other stakeholders.
He then submitted the draft to the state and central government bodies and applied for funding under the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) for which he got approval in February 2003.
“Our products are of high quality and without adulteration. We don’t compromise quality. Like a mother who makes food for her child, in the same way Subicsha’s products which are pure same as if it’s been made in someone’s home,” says Mr. Kunhammad
Therefore, Subicsha was started with the objective to fully utilise the coconut to manufacture utilitarian agro based products. They now sell virgin coconut oil, traditional coconut oil, coconut pickle, soaps, coconut vinegar, coconut chips, coconut jam, etc.
In addition to making coconut-based products, they also use use the shell and the coir efficiently to reduce wastage. The coir fibre is used in mattresses, ropes and for compost pits comprising of coir. The shell is used to make small art pieces and in total Subicsha is at least manufacturing about 24 different products.
KT Balakrishnan, 60, lives near the Chenoli coast and works as a Malayalam language teacher Koothali Vocational Higher Secondary School.
He found Subicsha’s products in a local store about 10 years back and hasn’t stopped using them ever since! “I saw their products in the shops in Perambra town of Kozhikode and at local fairs,” he says.
He uses a number of Subicsha’s products which include their turmeric soap, the plain coconut oil, their pickles, coconut vinegar, coconut powder among others. “The virgin coconut oil is something that I use so often. I drink a spoonful of that oil every morning as it is very good for health. I also apply it on my hair and my body,” he says.
He also appreciates the fact that Subicsha is a social enterprise in collaboration with a state and central government which is empowering so many women and also reducing coconut waste too.
Operations, Challenges and Impact
When they first started out, the founder realised that it was imperative to have some kind of training for the women who would be working in the units. Therefore, the training programme that they have is divided into two levels.
The first level is basic soft skill training which lasts for two days. The second level is more intensive where the women receive training on the processes involved in manufacturing these products. This training that lasts over five to six months equips women to even independently start their own units if they wish to.
Regardless of the progress, there are certainly a few challenges that Subicsha faces as a social enterprise.
“Marketing is definitely an issue for us and we need to look at better avenues for our products outside Kerala as well. Insufficient funds for advertisement and technology upgradation is another problem,” he says
Despite these few challenges, the work that Subicsha is doing has been recognised by several platforms. They have received the Swaraj Trophy from the Government of Kerala which is given to local bodies. They have also received the Central Agricultural Award through Coconut Development Board among several other awards.
Now, Subicsha is supplying their products to over 2000 small and big stores across Kerala. They are also supporting women from at least 588 SHGs and the training programme is ongoing in at least seven Gram Panchayats. Mr Kunhammad says that now they are also trying to expand their spices unit since Kerala is known for spices.
“Working at Subicsha has changed my life completely. Instead of just sitting at home, it helped me take care of my children’s education and add to the overall family income. Also, working around so many women really empowered me,” says Reeja.
Mr. Kunhammad has also set some goals for himself in the future. “The aim is to create more jobs and manufacture more of these value added agro products in the future. Currently, our turnover is Rs. 6 crores in a year. I hope this increases to Rs. 24 crores in the next five years as this would be beneficial for women who work with us as stakeholders,” he says signing off.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)