This small group of extraordinary women have pushed boundaries to find financial independence and along the way have become adopters of fair trade in India. They have no fancy B-school degrees but this group of 1000 Kumaoni women have been running a successful business of their own without any hype or hoopla. Hidden somewhere in their relentless effort is their lever for success – Shop for Change.
Mahila Umang, formed in 2002, as a small initiative to empower women residing in the hills of Kumaon, has grown hugely and stands testimony to the heights that women can scale against all odds. The repertoire of their produce is prolific, with jams, jellies, pickles, spices and dry fruits along with exotic products like chamomile tea. One can savour their Wild Flower Honey at the luxury hotel Four Seasons.
The plums, pears, apples, mangoes, walnuts and staples like rajma or exotic wild flower are converted into processed and packaged food products and are sold through their own store in the hills and other wholesalers and retailers in North India. However, the return on their products was less because of the middlemen involved. That’s where Shop for Change stepped in to give more returns to these women and to consumers as well.
Shop for Change, a not-for-profit organisation, started planning the launch of fair trade food in India in the first quarter of 2012. It then identified ‘market ready’ small farmer groups and came across Mahila Umang. After their conversation, they agreed to include the group’s products in the fair trade food hampers targeting corporate Diwali gifting. The fair trade food hampers (which included their products) were sold to leading companies like Thomas Cook, Aditya Birla group, Courtyard Marriott, Axis Mutual Fund and Hexaware.
Since then, Shop for Change has enabled Mahila Umang to sell close to Rs 25 lakhs worth of merchandise generating a bonus of Rs 5 lakhs for these small farmers which was disbursed on March 8, 2013 to them. Hitherto, they had been selling bulk of their produce through wholesalers and other retailers who claim an exorbitant 40-50% on MRP leaving little margin for the group.
Sharing an insight on how fair trade works, Jaishankar Talreja, COO, Shop for Change-Fair Trade, said, “Fair Trade which involved a sizable bonus for the small farmers was an ‘instant hit’ especially since Shop for Change decided not to charge the group any upfront fees for its certification and market development services.
Besides they were able to sell (and invoice) directly to leading companies cutting through a long chain of middlemen and consumers under their own brand.”
Fair trade certified products have been sold with the Shop for Change mark on the products which assures you that 20% of the price goes back as a bonus to farmers leading to a 50-500% higher price realization for them. These farmers barely make Rs 30,000-40,000 from their farms otherwise and their income goes up significantly by virtue of eliminating the middlemen while the buyers end up saving at least 15% as well. The partner is required to pay Shop for Change fees to enable them to cover part of their costs which in case of Mahila Umang was only after realizing payment from companies who bought their hampers.
For Mahila Umang, fair trade has given them a reason to smile.
Shop for Change is a win-win partnership for producers and consumers. If you would like to source your corporate purchases through them or provide them with a retailing platform, please email [email protected]