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  Youth entrepreneurship  
  A long way to go in J&K  
   
  STARTING from a scratch, Mymoona Akther, 32, today leads a self-help group that provides financial support to many families he in Kralsangri-Nishat in Srinagar. She believes moral, financial and family support is must for women entrepreneurship to flourish in the Valley.

Akther says she along with 15 other women underwent a 20-day training programme at Mushroom Research Centre, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology - Kashmir (SKUAST-K) in 2009.

"After the training, we brought compost home and applied the techniques that we had learnt, but the crop failed," said Akther, adding, "all the group members quit, but I contacted the university experts to know the reasons for the crop failure. I was told that due to over-spraying, the crop had failed."

Akther didn't lose hope, but stood firm. She again underwent training for almost one and a half years. "I didn't look back, but stood up to fight back. Initially, it is difficult but nothing is unachievable provided you show interest and dedication."

Akther continued with her efforts and was supported by SKUAST-K. She offered 15 days' training to 18 women, including the BSc students of the university. "The programme was divided into three parts - Cultivation, Processing and Marketing."

Fifteen out of these trained women later formed a self-help group, Cheshmashahi SHG in November 2011. Akther leads the group. The group holds a joint account in Jammu and Kashmir Bank, Brein and offers loan facility to its members.

Akther feels that there should be a lower interest rate for the group. In fact, she advocates for interest-free loans or less interest or subsidy on loans. "We aren't much supported on this front. We require financial aid for group activities so that we can continue with our work smoothly and reap timely benefits."

About marketing of the crop, she says that local market is readily available to them. "Due to its high demand in local market, we are able to find a good number of customers. Even Vivanta Taj, a five-star hotel, in the vicinity, can be a good option for us, but their demand is too high and we can't fulfill that."

She adds, "a group member can take Rs 20,000 as loan and the same is to be returned within seven months. Under such circumstances, members can't take much responsibility. Just three members in the entire group are engaged with mushroom cultivation. The rest are engaged with other activities like processing, floriculture and likewise." Members contribute Rs 200 each per month, as their contribution towards the group.

Mushroom is cultivated twice a year; March-May and September-November. Two varieties -- Dingri and Button -- are cultivated here.

"Button mushroom is more in demand. The University should promote Dingri mushroom as well as its yield is comparatively more and it is easy to grow," points out Akther.

Despite availability of good market and better seeds provided by SKUAST-K and the Department of Agriculture, there are certain factors that need to be well-focused so that self-employment units flourish and more and more people take to it.

A graduate, Akther says she had no idea of entrepreneurship, but as she underwent training at SKUAST-K and then failed at the first instance, she learnt a lesson and got encouraged by the timely support of the university, especially the visit of the Vice-Chancellor to her unit. "All this generated interest in me and I got encouraged to work more in this direction. Above all, hard work always pays."

She states "being self-employed has many advantages like you are your own boss and the more you work, the more benefits you reap. Besides, you can do other things, simultaneously."

She further observed that financial support and encouragement is must for women taking to entrepreneurship. "Women are usually less encouraged at home or in fields. As such, they require more moral, financial and family support to leave a mark in this field."

"We've encouraged youth. We invite people and train them, whosoever is interested," says Dr. Hafiza Ahsan, professor and head, division of Post-Harvest Technology, SKUAST-K
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Though the response for such programmes is "good people often ask for subsidy, which is not in our hands. We can teach them various techniques and provide transport and other facilities. We can also guide them on how to start and the various ways and means that need to be adopted. We can draw their attention towards such programmes."

She added that age is no bar for such programmes and people can come and learn various processing techniques about different fruits and vegetables. "We invite applications for processing of different products from different parts of the state. We adopt the first-come-first-serve principle."

Dr. Ahsan said that the division works on the shelf life of different fruits and vegetables and their better use. "We train youth in food processing free of cost, so that they can set up their own units. We train them in different production developments like value addition of fruits and vegetables, especially perishable fruits like strawberries, cherries and likewise."

She said the division has been offering trainings and has many success stories to share. Quoting examples, she said that a food park established by Shah Foods has been their trainee. "He established his unit in such a manner that he supplies fruits and vegetables to the entire Valley."

She added that a group of young unemployed girls from Nishat were offered one-month training at the Mushroom Training Centre about mushroom pickle, caning of mushrooms and likewise. "The group supplies mushroom products and fresh fruits to the local market."

Referring to another example, she said, "Aaliya, a resident of Zainakote, was enthusiastic as she was offered two-month training in pickle-making. Later, she exceled in the field and today she supplies it to different markets."

Aaliya belonged to an economically weak family and had no financial support. "We supported her to establish her unit and in marketing her product as well. After acquiring training, she approached us vis-à-vis a problem in marketing her product. We provided her with labels (SKUAST-K) and initially she started selling pickles outside the university. Later on, she succeeded in establishing her own market."

Abdul Ahad from Gasoo-Zakura, on the outskirts of Srinagar city, deals with strawberry fruit and jams. Dr. Ahsan told this reporter that she evaluated eight varieties of Ahad’s strawberry crop, during her PhD course.

"Three varieties out of eight were the best as per their shelf-life and processing. I advised him to grow Gorilla and Condujera varieties of strawberry, as they are bigger in size and their shelf life, too, is good. I provided him those varieties and he achieved success and got national award as well."

Dr. Ahsan even suggested Ahad to start a processing unit and trained his daughter as well. "We helped him with strawberry jam and how to market it. Strawberry jam has international market, but it isn't commonly available in the city. Value-addition is very good in strawberry and cherry."

Jammu and Kashmir is an apple state, but there are no back-house facilities in the state. "We've it here for demonstration purpose. But such facilities should be available in the state so that growers reap the benefits and state economy gets enhanced." She stressed cold chain is very important and it would help both the state as well as growers.

She stated that quality of fruits in the state is good compared to Himachal Pradesh due to the agro-climatic conditions here and same has to be maintained. She added that the younger generation should learn processing techniques so that they are able to establish their own units and can sell them in markets at any time.

Dr. Ahsan stated that they’ve trained a group of women about how to make the best use of de-hydrated vegetables. "We train them on how to put them in good shape, pack them well and then sell them. One-month training is offered for different processing techniques of tomatoes, brinjal, bottle guard and other leafy vegetables and how to make tomato sauce and tomato juice."

She added, "hygiene is very important and we educate the trainees about food safety standards as well."

The division established in 1986 has offered hundreds of trainings, so far. "Our scientists offer trainings in Ladakh division as well, especially in July and August, as per demand and requirements of the people in the area. We’ve offered them trainings about how to de-hydrate apricot, other temperate fruits and vegetables and their proper utilization."

"As the government sector gets squeezed, people have started establishing their own units so that they are self-reliant," she says, adding, people contact them about better packaging of fruits like almonds and walnut-kernels, as well.

Dr. Ahsan emphasizes that there is a mismatch between production and post-harvest management. "Post-harvest management is a very important sector and we can get better returns if we seriously adopt it. Unfortunately, this is a neglected sector. Quality of fruits here is good but we lack post-harvest treatment."

She further stresses that packaging of fruits and vegetables also matters a lot. "We lack it here but it is the need of the hour and the same can also generate employment to many. Private sector can play an important role in this perspective. CA storage facilities and refrigerated vans are required to give a boost to this sector."

The Department of Agriculture, too, offers various entrepreneurship programmes to the youth. "Youth avail of such programmes in various sectors, especially mushroom-cultivation, bee-keeping and the recently introduced centrally-sponsored scheme about organic manure (compost)," says Fida Ali Alamgeer, manager Gulmarg farm, Department of Agriculture.

Alamgeer said that the Centrally-sponsored scheme about organic manure (compost) has better incentives and once the product is ready, the department buys it at a good price from them. "Thus, the department helps in marketing as well. Marketing is usually the biggest problem that people face once they set up their own units. In the absence of marketing facilities, units often get closed. But here there is no such problem and youth have been availing of it."

He said that organic manure not only helps to keep environment clean but people earn something out of it as well. "People should adopt it as it increases production, helps in recycling wastes and we’ll not have to depend on outside markets for food-stuffs. Moreover, people are getting more conscious about organic food as it is more tasty and nutritious."

The manager further points that response from the youth vis-à-vis the entrepreneurship programmes has been encouraging. "Youth across the Valley are coming forward to avail of the benefits. They are flourishing and earning their livelihoods. Both men and women are doing brisk business. Women in particular, go for bee-keeping and mushroom-cultivation."

He added, due to ad hocism in the government sector, youth aren’t much interested towards it and prefer entrepreneurship. "Here, they work at leisure. Besides, they can provide job to others as well."

About the formalities, Alamgeer said that youth simply have to register their units at their respective zonal level and then follow a simple procedure. Besides, the department also offers regular training programmes at zonal, sub-divisional, district and regional level. "We are doing it and provide technical know-how to the participants in these trainings."

Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) also offers multiple entrepreneurial programmes with an aim to foster progress and prosperity of the state. Established by the state government in March 1997 as a society of the government of Jammu and Kashmir, the institute started its regular activities from February 2004.

The objectives of the institute are to motivate, train and facilitate educated youth to take up entrepreneurship as a career option and create employment opportunities not only for themselves but also for others and to invest in various areas of economy.

Its core-areas include horticulture, floriculture, cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants; food-processing at household and village level; food storage establishment, particularly cold chains; handloom, handicraft and other artisanal products; sheep-breeding and production, storage and marketing of milk; setting up of computer literacy and training institutes in villages; health services unit; pathological labs; tourism-related enterprises and likewise.

Jammu and Kashmir State Women's Development Corporation that started its functioning in 1994, too, offers a number of developmental schemes of state as well as central government for socio-economic upliftment of women with special emphasis on families living the Below Poverty Line (BPL) and women belonging to minorities, backward and other classes.

Various objectives of the Corporation include identification and promotion of women entrepreneurs, empower women by helping them to establish income-generating units by providing soft loan at a very low rate of interest, identification of activities, trades, for skill upgradation training, forming self-help groups amongst them for providing micro-credit and so on and so forth.

Apart from government agencies, non-government organizations, too, have come forward to provide skill-development activities and livelihood programmes to youth in the Valley. Indo Global Social Service Society (IGSSS), a national non-government organization, is one such example.

Despite so much work being done by government and non-government organizations, much still needs to be done. Problems occur at production, management, marketing as well as transportation level. Unorganized practices followed by cultivators fail to achieve desired results. No practical steps have been taken by the respective governments to transfer technology to growers so that the benefits trickle down to the grassroot level.

Besides, there has to be coordination between the departments offering technological knowledge and the institutions offering financial subsidies.

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This article is part of Indo Global Social Service Society's (IGSSS) second Media Fellowship Programme in Jammu and Kashmir under its project "Youth Action for Peace". The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of IGSSS. Feedback is welcome at afsanarashid@rediffmail.com
 
  By  Afsana Rashid  
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