Why have cities become the only destination for mountain youth to fulfil their dreams? How can the livelihood aspirations of pahadi youth be understood and fulfilled regionally through local interventions, skill building, technical expertise, knowledge transfer and motivational support? Is it possible to create successful and replicable models for land-based livelihoods and entrepreneurship by working closely with the aspiring youth entrepreneurs of Uttarakhand?
With these questions in mind, India and Bharat Together (IABT) – an applied research organisation working with Uttarakhand youth – began its flagship programs Margshala and Khojshala in Uttarakhand after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the 27th of November 2021, IABT hosted a Local Livelihood Summit at Pithoragarh in collaboration with the District Administration of Pithoragarh, to further the cause of boosting youth entrepreneurship in Uttarakhand.
Bringing together a panel of speakers and experts from different spheres of life – careers and livelihoods, event sessions were made both informative and interactive for the participants – youth from across Pithoragarh district. The participants included fellows of the ongoing Margshala fellowship, a six-month training and mentoring program for young men and women who are looking to start their own local businesses by the end of the fellowship. The panellists gave strategic, technical and diverse knowledge to youth on various livelihood business possibilities in a regional context.
Two entrepreneurs from Pithoragarh – Ajay Oli, social entrepreneur, motivational speaker and founder of Ghanshyam Oli Foundation and Manish Makholia, founder of Cafe Morrison and an adventure tourism expert talked about the potential of zero-capital and low-capital business models and methods for creating livelihoods leveraging one’s own skills – reflecting on their own personal experiences. Manish spoke about livelihood options requiring low investment and a focus on personal skill development, such as youth opting to train themselves as local nature and birdwatching guides. Both Ajay and Manish highlighted that finally, it all comes down to building an entrepreneurial mindset and having the will to start their own journey as an entrepreneur.
Preeti Bhandari, mushroom farmer and entrepreneur from Almora spoke about how, with the right passion to work, one can learn on their own in today’s world with easy access to online learning resources. She spoke about how she taught herself through YouTube and building on that knowledge with experience, today she has become an expert in the field who travels across Uttarakhand to train others. Referring to the current boom in mushroom businesses in the state, she also shed light on the prospects of value addition for having a better chance of surviving market competition, drawing on her experiences of the mushroom business.
Rekha Bhandari, progressive farmer from Jajrauli in Pithoragarh district and well-known female role model for agri-entrepreneurs in the region spoke about community-based models and the effort it takes to mobilise producer groups such as SHGs. She spoke about using traditional knowledge for livelihood generation in the hills, leveraging the natural resources around us and showed the attending youth that one’s background and education level shouldn’t be a barrier in the path of success.
Mr. Harish Chandra Pandey, who plays the role of Technical Officer ‘A’ at the DRDO and supports numerous local farmers with agricultural extension services, spoke about the role of technical interventions for more sustainable and income-generating farming in the region. He stressed upon how, with the right technical support, farming in the hills can move from subsistence farming which generates seasonal income to a more financially secure and productive model, generating year-round income. He called upon a young farmer, Mr. Kamal Kaloni who recently came back to his village after the Covid-19 lockdown and is now productively engaged in agricultural production of various products in his village, growing multiple crops throughout the year. Mr. Kaloni shared how he has been able to get technical support from the DRDO for ensuring production throughout the year, during and offseason.
Vinod Karki, founder of an upcoming brand – Berinag Tea – emphasized the importance of marketing in building a brand, even showing the students the packaging used for his brand. He spoke about the potential of tapping into a global market through strong marketing and branding. He also shared his experiences creating a community-driven model which creates local jobs, while focussing on the quality of the product rather than quantity. Students were motivated that business success is almost guaranteed if the product quality is of a high standard.
Rajesh Chand, a current Margshala fellow of IABT who returned from Mumbai to Pithoragarh after the lockdown, spoke next. He talked about how very few returning youth find local livelihood opportunities in Uttarakhand, and then often go back to find a job in the city. Rajesh decided to stay back at his village Chama and is now experimenting with an integrated farming model through mushroom cultivation, fisheries and poultry. He continues to teach himself by attending government training programs in Uttarakhand, and is now evolving into a youth role model himself who can motivate other young men and women who would like to start their own small enterprises in their own villages.
R S Verma, Chief Horticulture Officer, also recommended that following the women’s SHG model, youth can also create youth groups to leverage economies of scale and aggregate produce at large volumes. He also shed some light on the major horticultural possibilities in the Pithoragarh region.
At the end of the panel, all panelists shared their views on funding and finances for young aspiring entrepreneurs, emphasizing that youth need not view funding as a challenge while starting up. There are many government schemes available such as the Veer Chandra Garhwali Scheme, loans available through the Mukhyamantri Swarozgar Yojana (MSY), technical assistance available through DRDO’s training and inputs, financing through SME loans, etc. Fellowship programs like Margshala itself offer advice on keeping startup costs minimal and leveraging other funding opportunities.
Students also had the opportunity to speak to the experts through focus group discussions and asking questions. They shared their current business ideas and received personalised feedback from the experts. Kuldeep Bisht (Divisional Project Manager, ILSP) guided students about the possibilities of agricultural products and marketing through the Hilans brand. ND Joshi of the Bhesaj Sangh told students about the potential of badi elaichi in the region. Mr. Vinod Karki gave students guidance on tea planting and nettle leaves production, while Mr. R S Verma offered his expertise on horticultural plantation to students who wanted to work on orchard-based models. Pankaj Kumar Joshi, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer cleared students’ doubts on animal husbandry practices and generating income through dairy farming and poultry.
Apart from the panellist, there were many other expert attendees from other government departments such as Ms. Pooja from the Agriculture Department, Mr. Suryakant from DIC Pithoragarh, Mr. Rajesh Bisht, District Thematic Expert – NRLM and Ashwini Patekar, MGNF fellow and IIM-Bangalore student, who gave their valuable suggestions and views. Mr. Ashish Punetha, Project Director of NRLM made the closing remarks at the event and motivated the young Margshala students.
Also read: ITI SPARK: A unique idea war for sustainable solutions to real-time problems https://www.nationalskillsnetwork.in/iti-spark-a-unique-idea-war-for-sustainable-solutions-to-real-time-problems/
The event closed with a networking lunch where students had the opportunity to speak to all the guests and attendees over lunch. Students will continue to reach out to these experts as they start their businesses in the next few months.