Changing lives of tribal women and youth
Social entrepreneur Shaikh Raziya started Bastar Food in 2017 to uplift Bastar's tribal women and educated youth, often labelled Naxals by default, by creating job opportunities specifically for them
'Mahua' flowers found in the forests of central and north India, are traditionally fermented to produce an alcoholic drink. Rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, locals also make laddoos from mahua flowers. Later the locals approached Raziya in search of work.
Raziya, who holds a master's degree in microbiology, was working as a researcher at an NGO. The key areas of her research work were health, nutrition, and livelihood. She also conducted training workshops for tribal women, educating them on the necessary diets during and post-pregnancy while also encouraging them to pursue their skills and knowledge to start small-scale businesses and earn a livelihood.
Raziya said that she tried convincing government officers that they also needed financial support but to no avail.
"They told me that this was not my business and that I was just a researcher who should focus on her work. But what good is research when no steps and actions are taken from it?" she asks.
After she completed her projects at the NGO in 2017, she decided to take matters into her own hands and started up from her home. The motive to start Bastar Foods was not only to uplift the tribal women but also the educated youth in the district, often labelled Naxals by default, by creating job opportunities specifically for them. She turned away the job opportunities that came her way to work at government offices and other organisations.
Raziya noticed that while there were products being made in the district, most lagged in terms of packaging, hygiene, licensing, and marketing. She began by providing services of packaging, identifying a market, branding, and helping out with cost analysis.
"We also guide them on applying for various licences and the importance of doing nutritional analysis for every product," she adds.
Ten tribal women whose husbands had migrated to cities in search of work approached Raziya. The group of women told her about ladoos made from Mahua flowers, which are traditionally used to make liquor. Raziya saw that the other ingredients being used were of poor quality and taste, but agreed to help and dedicated the next six months towards research and development of the product.
She found that the mahua flower, a source of natural sweetener, has a high nutritional value that can benefit children and mothers by increasing haemoglobin levels in their blood as well.
Empowering the youth
The Bastar-based social entrepreneur is in the process also opening up opportunities to young people.
Raziya explains, "Many would come and learn technology operations. Since it is a mainly Hindi-speaking region and most tech-related work requires an understanding of English, we translated the terms into Hindi and taught them."
The pandemic impact
Amazon reached out to Bastar Food to meet its consumers demand for natural and organic products. When the company was about to ship its first orders to different cities earlier this month, the nationwide lockdown put all operations on halt. They have paused all business operations since then.
Raziya says, "We got delayed and at the same time so many projects have been struck down, which would help create a livelihood not only for the village women but also for the college going youth. I wanted to set an example that nothing is impossible in Bastar. If you think that Bastar is a Naxal-affected area where there are no resources, you are wrong," she adds.
Gradually, the team went on to create a website and entered the social media space. They hope to launch a YouTube channel as well.