Despite India being one of the largest fruit and vegetable producers worldwide, farmers continue to be pushed into poverty as they are forced to sell excess produce at throwaway prices.
“Farmers do not get a fair price for their produce. At times, the cost of harvesting is greater than the output. So, they leave the produce without even harvesting it,” says Nidhi Pant.
“It is such a big paradox that at one end, this produce is being wasted, and on the other, farmers are in poverty as they are unable to tap distant markets,” she adds.
To integrate a chain wherein farmers extract the maximum output of their produce, the Aurangabad-based chemical engineer launched a food processing platform – S4S Technologies.
With this platform, she helps farmers convert farm losses (lower-grade produce) into food ingredients using its patented solar-powered food processing system.
In the process, Nidhi is also empowering women as she employs rural women at every step.
Women collect the cosmetically-damaged produce from farmers and give it to micro-entrepreneurs, who use solar-powered food processing technology to convert the produce into value-added products. All players here are women only.
For instance, tomato is converted into tomato powder, onion into onion flakes, and ginger into ginger granules.
The solar-powered machines, including dehydrators and cutting machines, remove moisture from produce within 6-8 hours without adding any chemicals.
After grading and sorting, the produce is packaged and supplied to the food and beverage industries such as The Indian Railways and Sodexo.
“With this, farmers now have a direct market for lower-grade produce. They have seen an income growth of 10–15 percent while women micro-entrepreneurs have observed an increase of up to 200 percent in their income,” says Nidhi.
So far, Nidhi has empowered more than 6,000 smallholder farmers and 2,000 women entrepreneurs in Maharashtra, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh.