To supplement the uncertain and often meagre income earned from traditional agriculture, a group of women farmers in Ahmednagar’s Shrirampur town have started Maharashtra’s first rural home kitchen. The women cook and pack traditional Maharashtrian snacks and finger foods at the kitchens for customers from Mumbai and Pune, with whom they are connected through a digital marketplace called KisanKonnect.

Started by a group of 11 farmers from Rahata, Shrirampur and Junnar areas of Maharashtra, KisanKonnect is a farmer producer company (FPO). It was started as a digital platform to deliver fresh farm produce such as vegetables and fruits directly to customers’ homes in Mumbai and Pune in April, a month after the country went into lockdown owing to the Covid-19 outbreak. Following the lockdown, farmers began suffering huge losses as markets were closed, and the supply chains for fruits and vegetables were broken owing to the restrictions. Customers were also unable to get vegetables and fruits easily.

Farmers then set up their own digital space and supply chain, took orders from customers online and delivered fresh produce directly to the doorstep of customers during the lockdown.

The kitchen was started around Diwali in a small, 400-square-feet room at the MIDC area in Shrirampur by a group of 20-25 women as a part of the already functional KisanKonnect. It started using the digital platform’s supply chains, call centre and customer care services over the past few months and tapped customers from Mumbai and Pune.

For around three months now, the KisanKonnect kitchen has retained all its old customers and has also gained new ones, and produces up to 100kg of snacks a day, which are packed and transported to customers within 48 hours after receiving the order online.

Gauri Raje, a founding member of KisanKonnect, said, “We started by cooking only Diwali snacks. But our customers insisted we continue selling snacks after Diwali as well. So we have branched out to produce other food items such as chutney, aachar, Maharashtrian and Gujarati sweets and finger foods after Diwali, too. The platform has not only helped us earn a supplementary and stable income apart from the income from farming that our families earn, but it has also given the women employees a sense of empowerment and financial independence.”

Vandana Rashinkar, another founding member of the kitchen, said that the platform has boosted their confidence. “I have observed that women who work at the kitchen have developed a sense of confidence and tremendous financial independence. I used to believe we are not as educated as women who work in firms in big cities. But now, we are still able to earn money independently just like them. Seeing that we bring money home every month, our families are also supporting the venture.”

Before working with the KisanKonnect Kitchen, these women have been farmers working along with their other family members on their family’s farms.

“The income from farming is volatile and based on many external factors such as the climate, market connectivity, healthy growth of crops etc. During the complete lockdown months, it was difficult to keep this income stable,” Raje said.

Families of these women earn up to Rs5-6 lakh per annum from farming. Many of them are large joint families, depending on a single farm land for the household income.

With KisanKonnect, these women earn up to Rs10,000 a month by doing a convention seven-eight hour shift. If women wish to work over time, they are paid extra money per hour. All expenses of the kitchen, raw materials and salaries of the women who work at the kitchen are managed through the profit earned from selling the snacks.

KisanKonnect Kitchen is soon planning to branch out into other nearby cities such as Nashik and Aurangabad. Currently, KisanKonnect has over 400 farmer members, with over 2,000 farmers supplying their produce and making a turnover of over Rs4 crore.

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