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Interview


Pickle recipes empowering women, Sangeeta Rai

Our regular Daal Bhat Tarkari livens up with one simple addition –‘Achar’ or pickles. Pickles made of chilies, mangoes, lemons, lapsi, and buff meat; there’s plenty to choose from.

Most of us grow up with the home made pickles, age old family recipes handed down to our grandmothers, mothers and then to us. But being born in the busy bee generation, there are very few of us who get to learn the tradition and perfecting it is sadly quite not viable. The alternative: to bring in the ready made pickles from the market.

Thankfully, we can still enjoy the age-old flavors of Nepali homemade pickles; the tradition and the taste still preserved by some women who have taken this local delicacy not only as their source of income but their entrepreneurial experience.

Here’s an account of an individual and a group endeavor of some women in their pickle making business.


AN INDEPENDENT EFFORT

Sangeeta Rai’s home made pickles have reached many parts of the world- Dubai, Singapore and Honkong. Yet her business is still to be established.

It’s been three years that Sangeeta started selling her home made pickles, while helping out at her husband’s stationery alongside. Without any prior training, she started making pickles out of her curiosity and interest.

“I’d experiment with different ingredients and some would turn out bad. But in the process I just learned how to do it right,” Sangeeta shares.

She handed out excess pickles she made for her home to her close relatives as they often sought after it. Through them she found many other admirers of her pickles and eventually started to get orders.

Her most sought after recipes are the pickles made of Dalle Khursani, Buff meat, Methi paste and pulverized chili. Many of her consumers who have relatives abroad always send out her pickles as gifts from home.

Sangeeta makes all the pickles by herself. She is looking forward to the training session at the Department of Small and Cottage industries in Tripureshwor so that she can get a certificate and hopes to go commercial.

She has started distributing her pickles at the wholesale in Mahaboudha and Chabahill, but most of her sales are still in her own friends and relatives circle. “I still have to learn a lot about marketing my products,” she says.


She has had quite some offers to teach at different training programs and even taught two people free of cost. But she feels she still is in her learning phase and doesn’t want to take that step too soon.

Having grown up without a mother, Sangeeta always had to work very hard to provide for her family. She learnt all the household chores from cooking to knitting and sewing all by herself.

After getting married at an early age, she gave up her dreams of becoming a staff nurse or a dress designer but is happy that her two daughters are taking up to accomplish her unfulfilled dreams.

Now all she desires is to be able to get her pickle business running smoothly so that she can be self dependent and provide a good life for her family. She’s got the required determination and the full family support backing her up.

“My wife is very talented” says Birendra Thakuri, her husband, “and I believe she’ll be good in everything she does because she is very hard working.”

A COOPERATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENT

It all started with one training program. When Hajuri Bista, current Vice Chairperson of WEAN (Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal) Multipurpose Co-operative, participated in the ‘Food Processing and Preservation Training’ in 1993 she says she got more than she expected.

The main objective of the three-week long training organized by WEAN was to make an entrepreneur out of a housewife. Bista was one among the 45 participants and among the 12 who persisted in implementing what they learned.

“I was 38 when I started this work,” says Bista looking over her workers busy crushing spinach for preparing Gundruk, “As my household duties had lessened with my children all grown up, I decided to make good use of my time and dedicated myself to pickle making.”

All her pickle production along with different food variety produced by other members of WEAN is marketed under the familiar brand name of Navaras. The production of the different variety of pickles is coordinated among the members of WEAN so that a particular variety production does not overlap amongst the members.

Among the 16 varieties of pickles that Bista produces, pickles made of buff meat, dried fish, small prawns, Lapsi and radish are most popular. She works with 15 regular staff from her home and hires people as per the demand and workload. Along with all the preparation the packaging and preservation is also done from her home then taken to WEAN for marketing.

For the first three years, Bista along with her partner, Late. Kheshar Shrestha worked very hard in experimenting with recipes and researching the market. They took part in many exhibitions to gather feedbacks from consumers so that they could produce the quality they desired.

“I remember toiling for 18 hours everyday during that period of time, but ultimately it’s that hardwork which has paid off in making this business run as smoothly.” shares Bista.

Navaras has created a standard for Nepali pickles. But maintaining it is getting harder as Bista says. With the price of the raw materials highly fluctuating, it’s very difficult to calculate the average costing of the products affecting its market demand.

Moreover as they don’t use chemical preservative, their pickles have limited shelf life. This is the main challenge they have to face in marketing their products locally and internationally.

After Navaras pickles came into market there were many other brands that came up as well. Some could not sustain owing to problems of inflation and lack of proper marketing. “That is where I feel the importance of a cooperative like WEAN,” Bista shares with us.

“If we can get through these present challenges, I guarantee that the Nepali homemade pickles can replace the imported ones very easily in our local market,” she adds.