On a Friday afternoon, Yugapriya R (35) types in the Whatsapp group, “Booking starts.” Barely hours later, she sends another message: “Booking closed.” She scrolls up the message history and takes a count of her order - five fowls and 130 eggs. The meat and eggs are scheduled for delivery the next day. This limited online retail of country bred chicken operates out of Maduramangalam, a village in Kanchipuram district.
Streets apart, Arulmozhi N (45) and her husband Narasimman M (55) look intently at sewing needles in their hands continuing to pin down beads and crystals along the pattern sketched on the silk cloth held in tension across the embroidery cot.
Another embroidery cot nearby holds a silk saree stretched to its full length. The grandeur that it would soon assume has already begun to flow from one side of the cot. Rest assured, their customer, a textile company in southern India, and in turn its customer would find the grandeur stunning.
Narasimman goes across Tamil Nadu and sometimes to even Kerala collecting orders from textile companies and boutiques.
On the main road of Maduramangalam, next to the government school and library, Parvathi (31) is busy in her bakery kitchen, taking crates of sweet puffs out of the oven. She then leaves the kitchen in charge of the chef who starts frying onion pakodas(deep fried fritters). School students start to come one after another wanting snacks.
Earlier, Parvathi kept herself to family and cattle. Now she is an entrepreneur heading a self help group, which runs the bakery, employing a chef and a helper.
Parvathi and the other women are budding entrepreneurs, part of social enterprises founded out of their SHG, which until Hyundai Motors India Limited (HMIL) intervened three years back, functioned minimally – dealing with small savings and withdrawal of funds in rotation among its members.
As a part of the Dream Village Project under Hyundai’ CSR, the team keeps identifying potential avenues for self sustained community enterprises in villages, works with the women SHG and helps them open up business and sustain trade.
Maduramangalam has country bred poultry, dairy society, embroidery units entering third year successfully. The bakery is the new addition to the village.
It has been a decade since Chennai began expanding itself out into its suburban region such as Siruseri, Sriperumbudur, Gummidipoondi – once satellite towns around which SIPCOTs were founded for IT & manufacturing corridors.
Stuck between this expansion spree are remote villages occurring in clusters, distant from the city as well as the suburban towns. They have elements of industrial corridors and at the same time prevail as villages sincerely committed to agriculture, the primary economic activity.
Maduramangalam is one such village in the lower Palar basin, 20 kilometres from Sriperumbudur SIPCOT, 50 km from Chennai – the capital city, 26 km from Kanchipuram – the nearest commodity market for paddy. The Palar sub-basin does not help much in terms of irrigation despite 11 major lakes found around the village basin area and so the paddy fields are predominantly rain fed.
To the north-west of the village, CEAT has recently set up a manufacturing unit. In a way, the village is en route to industrialisation but never really departed from agriculture.
When Om Shakthi Country chicken farm kick-started in 2016 with Rs 6 lakh worth infrastructure support from Hyundai, three members had already left losing out hope. Rolling forward three years, one sees Yugapriya, head of the SHG, talking about expanding their capacity.
This e-retail of organic chicken is niche market of customers – Hyundai employees – responsibly formed to sustain the enterprise. Every weekend employees rush to book chicken and eggs – now seen as organic - during the half day window.
If it was discovering an e-retail market for the poultry farm, it was human resource enhancement for the Annai Teresa embroidery unit.
The small scale embroidery house was once under thatched roof shelter prone to the whims and fancies of daily weather. Originally a property of Arulmozhi and Narasimman couple, it was then taken over by SHG, with infrastructure support worth Rs 6 lakh pumped in, it now looks a proper in-house embroidery unit profusely lit to aid the keen eyes and sewing hands at work. Orders keep coming in and the trade has sustained.
Narasimman notes, “We compete with mechanised embroidery and demands are huge during festival season.”
There has never been a smooth sailing in the last half a decade considering the impacts of demonetization and GST measures. Also note the successive droughts in Tamil Nadu.
Social enterprises demand the player’s continuous engagement with the group and some SHGs tend to fail due to bad luck with markets and most often due to loss of trust with the enterprise. When one such social enterprise holding a bakery in Thandalam, walked out of the CSR contract, the CSR team started looking out for new players and they found a promising entrepreneur in Maduramangalam, Parvathi.
It has just been a month since Parvathi’s SHG engaged the bakery and she hopes to create a market for freshly baked cakes and puffs, with the school students and the new CEAT Company in mind.
Apart from the usual CSR activities such as funding infrastructure, providing notebooks and tables to schools, Hyundai has stepped further venturing into villages creating a trust in social enterprises and the practice traces its roots to the Korean peninsula – home to the automotive maker.
After successive droughts, it is a harvest this year thanks to a surplus monsoon. Maduramangalam gets ready for the Vaikasi festival for Draupadi amman as the women are back from the battle against tough times that the village faced. This year they have more reasons to cheer.
(Cibe Chakravarthy Selvaraj is a freelance journalist from Tamil Nadu)