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Fruits of labour

Vikas Sharma  |  Chandigarh 

What began as a fun experiment 15 years ago, provides income to 100 women now.

It all began with a small apple orchard that Linnet Mushran – a Briton by birth – and her husband bought near Rajgarh in Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur district in the mid-1990s. Then one day, just for the fun of it, she made some apple jelly from fallen fruit.

Enthused with the experiment, the local women urged Mushran to start a small factory. She readily agreed, with the aim of providing employment to poor women and using fruit grown by local marginal farmers. That’s how Bhuira Jams was born.

Mushran started training rural women in the art of making jams and jellies. She named the product after their village (Bhuira), and it soon caught the fancy of buyers. The purpose of empowering local women continues, but the scale is becoming larger.

From 20 tonnes of jams and jellies in 1999, Bhuira Jams now has a production capacity of 50 tonnes. It has acquired additional land on which it is building a new factory that will help raise annual production to 100 tonnes, says Mushran.

All fruits are sourced directly from farmers — stone fruits (apples, plums, cherries, peaches, apricots) and strawberries from Himachal, citrus fruits from Punjab and grapes from Maharashtra. “Earlier, we were forced to utilise the fruit within a certain minimum time, considering the shelf life. The addition of a cold store has provided us with a cushion for storing fruits,” says Mushran.

Employees of Bhuira Jams are all women. At present, there is a core group of nine permanent employees, who handle the fruit as it comes in, as well as production, billing and dispatch.

The number increases when the company gets fresh orders and as many as 100 women can be engaged in washing, cleaning, cutting and boiling fruit; and then labelling, packing and dispatching the finished product. The number of permanent employees is expected to double once the new factory begins operations.

In 2007, Earthy Goods and Bhuira Jams entered into a partnership whereby the producer company would focus its energy on creating preserves, while Earthy Goods would handle the business development support work – including the provision of distribution and marketing infrastructure and services – for a fee.

At present, Bhuira Jams offers 27 product lines, including jams, jellies, marmalades and crushes. These are marketed by Earthy Goods, a social enterprise that aims to transform traditional rural livelihoods into sustainable enterprises.

Venkatesh Ramakrishnan, who oversees business development for Bhuira Jams, said the new factory is to open this month. “This will not only raise the production capacity to 100 tonnes, but also extend its employment reach to more women and villages.”

The idea of expansion also stems from the fact that sales of Bhuira products have grown at 30-40 per cent annually for three successive years. The company is now looking to sustain growth in the coming years by penetrating new markets and exploring the feasibility of exports.

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First Published: Wed, March 16 2011. 00:57 IST