Breaking the glass ceiling and proving her mettle : Dr Vedmani Devi
Vedmani Agro Enterprises (VAE) is an entrepreneurial venture of Kshetrimayum Vedmani Devi, a PhD, by profession and with 20 years of teaching experience in Food Science & Nutrition.
VAE had a modest beginning in 2014 as a localized enterprise manufacturing home-based food products like fruit and vegetable pickles, candies, and dried items of vegetables and fruits. They work with the local community, generally for women farmers and workers. Also with micro-level women entrepreneurs, for promoting entrepreneurship skills in food processing with a focus on enabling sustainable livelihoods.
The conception of Vedam Agro Enterprises was inspired by the involvement with local communities in suburban and rural Manipur, especially in the interior upland areas.
The aim was to benefit rural farmers by finding a market for their produces while benefitting food entrepreneurs with the raw materials available from the rural farmers. Dr Vedmani answered a few of our questions to help us understand her business and the role of our social investors in it.
Excerpts 1. Tell us how did you start Vedam Agro Enterprises – The early days and challenges? My teaching profession and research studies on food & nutrition of the ethnic tribes of Manipur brought me close with traditional practitioners and workers in ethnic foods. This gave me the impetus to take up food entrepreneurship with two objectives in mind – firstly, to put my learning into practice, and secondly, to engage in food entrepreneurship to further the sustainable livelihoods of the marginalized communities. In the beginning, the task was truly daunting as I had to learn the nuances of the business from scrap. Finding an appropriate mentor was difficult as there were hardly any professionals in this business. The other issue was finding resources for procuring materials and setting up the basic facilities. Finally, getting to know the business and finding a market for my products was a big challenge. I set up Vedam Agro Enterprises in 2014 and since then I have been pursuing my goal to be a successful entrepreneur with an effort of encouraging many more rural and upland women communities in entrepreneurship development. 2. How did you develop an interest in food and nutrition? My basic study at the undergraduate and graduate levels was in Home Science, and I continued this up to my doctoral study with a focus on food habits and gastronomy of an ethnic tribe – the Tarao – one of the least populated tribes in Manipur. The continued study led to an interest in the foods, food habits and nutritional status of the several ethnic communities in Manipur.
3. Why is there a need for an enterprise like Vedam Agro? There are of course many individuals taking up entrepreneurship in food, whereas, they are concentrated mainly on the business aspect and do not further their interaction with the ethnic communities. In Manipur, and also in the other States in North East India, it is generally observed that most food entrepreneurs are focused on their business only without a commitment to strengthening the capacity of local communities. Vedam Agro Enterprises differ from them by following a two-prong path of edging forward Vedam Agro’s interests while working to enhance the sustainable livelihoods of marginalized communities and food workers.
4. How many people are associated with your enterprise? At the enterprise level, there are currently around 20 direct and indirect workers associated with Vedam Agro. At the cluster level, Vedam Agro is connected with more than five villages in suburban and rural Manipur as backward linkages. Vedam Agro is also connected with several individual food entrepreneurs and food workers in both the valley areas and the uplands covering Imphal West, Imphal East, Bishnupur, Thoubal, Kangpokpi, Kamjong, and Chandel districts.
5. What was the most challenging part of running your enterprise? In establishing Vedam Agro Enterprises there were quite a few challenges to overcome initially, and even now. Of these, the biggest challenge is in pooling together the financial resources and maintaining the workforce.
6. Share in detail two indigenous products and the work behind making them. Vedam Agro Enterprises works on several ethnic foods, and these two main focuses are on Chakhao (Black Rice) and Bamboo shoots. Both are favoured delicacies of the people in the State and are also popular in other places outside of Manipur. The attempt is to bring out products of these two items with new tastes and flavours for both domestic and outside markets.
7. What challenges does the easy availability of credit solve in the North East? First and foremost, availing of easy credit paves the way for consolidating the establishment with appropriate working conditions and setup. Funds are required for procuring required machinery for production, packaging and transportation, payment of wages, and strengthening the market outreach. Additionally, funds are required for upgrading the office setup and maintenance, and salary for the staff.
8. During the initial days, how did you arrange funds? Funds are and have always been the biggest hurdle in the progress of my enterprises. In the early days of my entrepreneurship funding was managed from my own means, sometimes with borrowings from close friends and relatives. Later, the earnings from the sale of locally produced 5 fruit beverages sold in local markets within Imphal urban and suburban areas helped support the progress of the enterprises.
9. Why was there a need for more funds now? There arose a need to further the scope of the enterprise due to the expansion of business across Manipur and demands for local products from outside the State. Funds are required for establishing showrooms, office facilities, and outreach units in the different districts where Vedam Agro has its backward linkages for the supply of raw materials and support in food production.
10. Why did you consider social investment as an option? Social investment is a key to strengthening and furthering the networking with food producers and entrepreneurs on a common platform. It is the foundation upon which communities can function in a group to further their purpose for sustainability in livelihoods while expanding their business capability.
11. What lies ahead for Vedam Agro? Vedam Agro Enterprises is now stepping into the second phase of its entrepreneurship venture, which is to partner with Shubaan Foundation in expanding its market nationally and internationally. While furthering the interests of local communities as backward linkage.
12. The role of Dhriiti and Her&Now in growing your venture in detail. Vedam Agro Enterprises is hopeful of Dhriiti and Her&Now’s intervention to support growing entrepreneurship which goes out of its way to work also for the local communities while endeavouring to strengthen its own establishment. Dhriiti and Her&Now help the venture to be well equipped to face all the hurdles in operation, management and linkages along with the support from GIZ and Social Investors.
13. Your message to the Social Investors who invested in you. I shall endeavour to achieve the goals that are set to strengthen the empowerment of women farmers and workers. Through meaningful entrepreneurship, VAE shall help to achieve sustainability in their livelihoods. My heartfelt gratitude to all the social investors who invested in my venture. The funds enabled me to revive the enterprise from the deadly grip of the pandemic. Rang De Social Investors provided a loan of Rs 2,00,000 for the expansion of VAE. With the help of our Impact partners – Dhriiti and Her&Now, Up and Coming entrepreneurs like Dr Vedmani have the opportunity to raise necessary funds. We at Rang De are delighted to be a part of her journey. To know more visit rangde.in
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