Aranyam Naturals, a Delhi-based social startup founded by Meenakshi Bhardwaj, has been on a mission to help north-eastern tribal farmers since its inception. The journey began in 2015 at a CSR conference, where Meenakshi met a social worker who gave her some honey and turmeric and asked for help for her village. This one request eventually led to the creation of Aranyam Naturals. Today, Aranyam Naturals has grown to become a beacon of hope for the farmers of the region. The startup works directly with the women farmers, providing them with a platform to showcase their products and offering them fair prices for their produce.
Aranyam Naturals’ efforts have had a profound impact on the lives of the marginalised tribal farmers in Meghalaya. These women farmers, who belong to the Mookyndang, Shanpung, and Laskein villages, have been practising traditional farming methods for years. However, they were struggling with access to markets and earning a sustainable income. Aranyam Naturals stepped in to help, providing the farmers with a reliable source of income while allowing them to continue their traditional way of life.
Their region-specific Lakadong turmeric is renowned for its high curcumin content, which is cultivated on the small plots of land they own. The honey is collected from the forests of Cherrapunji and Mawsynram. By working directly with the farmers, Aranyam Naturals has been able to ensure that they receive reasonable prices for their products, which has helped them lead a more sustainable lifestyle. The startup has provided almost a hundred farmers with the means and resources to continue their traditional way of life while also ensuring that they have access to a reliable source of income. The impact of Aranyam Naturals has been significant, not just in terms of the economic benefits that it has provided to the farmers but also in terms of preserving traditional farming practices and promoting sustainable living.
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“We always want to ensure that we source sustainably and we provide a livelihood to those that we are sourcing from,” says Meenakshi Bhardwaj, Founder and CEO of Aranyam Naturals.
Meenakshi’s visit to Shillong in 2015 was nothing out of the ordinary. However, the fateful meeting with the social worker led to a completely different ending than one could have anticipated. When Meenakshi tried to offer money for the honey and turmeric given to her, the social worker refused. Instead, she requested help for her village, where there was a lot of poverty and the farmers were not being offered a fair price anywhere. With no idea how to help them but a promise made to do so, Meenakshi returned to Delhi and to her work.
Not knowing much about turmeric or what to do with it, Meenakshi finally decided to get it lab-tested. The lab test yielded a beautiful discovery about the curcumin levels in the turmeric, which were at 7 to 10 per cent. After testing the local turmeric and discovering that its curcumin level was only at 2 to 3 per cent, Meenakshi realised that what she had in her hands was extremely valuable. She knew that the farmers needed help, and she believed that the Lakadong turmeric was something that the world needed to know about and benefit from.
“I am going to help [the farmers] and I am going to help the society as well by bringing something good to them,” was the two-fold mission that led to the formation of Aranyam Naturals, says Meenakshi, who quit her job in order to give all her time to Aranyam Naturals.
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The Lakadong turmeric is cultivated on small pieces of land that are owned by the farmers in front of their homes, many of whom are also single mothers or the sole providers of the family. The turmeric is dried and then ground into a powder using a small machine, but the process is tedious. The tribals collect the honey from the forests of Mawsynram and Cherrapunji and bring it to their small homes to hang the honeycombs on their roofs. The honey keeps dripping down, which is collected in cans and taken to the social worker, who assists them in the packaging process.
Aranyam Naturals’ determination to justly compensate the farmers has not wavered over the years, even when the market costs for the products inflate. Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Aranyam Naturals’ commitment to supporting marginalised farmers has remained steadfast. Recognising that the pandemic would have a disproportionate impact on rural and marginalised communities, Meenakshi Bhardwaj made it her mission to ensure that the farmers could continue to earn a livelihood. In addition to continuing to purchase their products, she went above and beyond to arrange for transportation during the lockdowns, when movement was heavily restricted. This not only ensured that the farmers could continue to sell their products but also helped them avoid the economic hardship that many others were facing during the pandemic.
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Aranyam Naturals has given purpose and hope to the marginalised farmers, as they have been able to provide for their children and have a constant income. From growing the turmeric to drying, slicing, and grinding it, they are able to work and earn. The farmers are able to continue with their traditional methods of farming as they have confidence in already having someone to sell to. Where the farmers lack the knowledge or accessibility, the social worker fills in the gaps and educates them, while also helping them navigate the language barrier. By providing a fair price and market for the farmers, Aranyam Naturals has empowered the marginalised communities and created a positive impact on their lives.
Aranyam Naturals is an example of how a small effort can bring about a significant change in the lives of marginalised farmers. By providing sustainable livelihoods to farmers in Meghalaya, Aranyam Naturals has empowered the community, created a positive impact on their lives, and brought their products to the world. Meenakshi Bhardwaj’s vision and determination have played a crucial role in making this possible, and her commitment to the cause has been unwavering despite the challenges faced. Aranyam Naturals is an inspiring story of how social entrepreneurship can create a meaningful difference in the society.