Shedding past baggage: A barren belt no more, kandi products making waves in Punjab, abroad | punjab | top | Hindustan Times
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Shedding past baggage: A barren belt no more, kandi products making waves in Punjab, abroad

The area exports 1 lakh litres of natural vinegar a month, ships its powdered pink salt to London, and sells a host of other products, from gooseberry (amla) byproducts and aromatic oils to leading pharmacies in India.

punjab Updated: Apr 12, 2018 20:39 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Women working in a vinegar unit at Talwara in Hoshiarpur district. Here, vinegar is derived from sugarcane, grapes and amla syrup and not from petrochemicals.
Women working in a vinegar unit at Talwara in Hoshiarpur district. Here, vinegar is derived from sugarcane, grapes and amla syrup and not from petrochemicals. (HT Photo)

Till not very long ago, the kandi (sub-mountainous) belt in Punjab was known for its barren land and impoverished people. “Ithe te ik muth maah vi nahin ugdi (Not even a handful of daal can be grown here),” was the common refrain among farmers of the area which is located in the foothills of the Shivaliks.

Now, the area exports 1 lakh litres of natural vinegar a month, ships its powdered pink salt to London, and sells a host of other products, from gooseberry (amla) byproducts and aromatic oils to leading pharmacies in India. A total of 38,000 hectare of its forest land has been certified as organic; and it generates 1 lakh man hours of work a year.

The belt owes its transformation to a series of interventions by the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology (PSCST), which devised ways to process and monetise its bio-resources.

These projects have been such a success that Dr Roshan Sunkaria, principal secretary, science technology and environment, is now toying with the idea of setting up a small winery demonstration unit at Talwara.

Besides using bio-resources, the council has also persuaded farmers in the area to grow lemongrass, citronella and palmarosa with the help of the Kelkar Science Research Centre, Mumbai.

The amla revolution

“It was in 2004 that we initiated our first project at Talwara, Hoshiarpur, with a grant from the department of biotechnology, government of India,” recounts Dr Jatinder Kaur Aurora, the executive director of PSCST, who was fascinated by the rich crop of gooseberries (amla) growing in the wild.

PSCST partnered with Unati, a cooperative set up by Jyoti Swarup, an MSc student who reached out to Aurora when she used to deliver lectures at the Himachal Pradesh University (HPU). “Our aim was to use the natural resources of the area for providing jobs to the locals and this cooperative fitted the bill,” says Aurora. The council invited experts from the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research to train women self-help groups (SHGs) in harvesting the berries.

Then, Aurora and Jyoti visited Partapgarh in Uttar Pradesh, which has one of India’s largest cottage industries of processed amla. “From candies to barfi, every household there makes a living from amla,” says Aurora.

Once the processing protocols were in place, Aurora got on rent two unused sheds owned by the Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd (PSPCL) near Talwara and turned them into state-of-the-art processing facilities. Soon, the amla byproducts produced by the local women were certified by the Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI).

After amla, the council targeted other bio-resources in the region, such as karela, giloy, turmeric, moringa, black carrot, mountain salt and started processing them. Today, all the 220 plus outlets of Apollo Pharmaceuticals store their products. They are also available on Amazon and HealthKart.

“It was in 2004 that we initiated our first project at Talwara, Hoshiarpur, with a grant from the department of biotechnology, government of India,” recounts Dr Jatinder Kaur Aurora, the executive director of PSCST.

Vinegar wins

Always on the lookout for new products, the council has also started making vinegar. Dr Deepinder Bakshi, a scientist, says unlike the vinegar derived from petrochemicals, they use technology from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, to derive it from sugarcane, grapes and amla syrup.

The department of science and technology helped them set up a demonstration unit at the site, which today exports 1 lakh litres of vinegar a month.

All along, the council has tried to ensure that only locals are employed in these projects. “It’s a great initiative for women empowerment as 90% of the workforce comprises women,” says Sunkaria, who was impressed with a shipment of pink salt headed to London.

Aromatic crops

Besides using bio-resources, the council has also persuaded farmers in the area to grow lemongrass, citronella and palmarosa with the help of the Kelkar Science Research Centre, Mumbai, and the regional research station at Gurdaspur. “Wild animals don’t touch these crops,” says Dr Alkesh, a scientist.

A distillation unit at the site helps in producing essential oils from these three crops, which are sold across India. “Everything we grow and process is organic,” says Aurora, who was thrilled when the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) found their interventions had led to a 30% jump in local incomes.

Sunkaria attributes the success of these projects to the synergy between the Punjab Science Council and Unati.

Sunkaria is now looking forward to producing wine from fruits in the area. With Aurora already initiating a research in this direction, it won’t be long before we get wine, produced in kandi.