A trainee engaged in jam-making process Credit: EastMojo Image

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Kohima: Nagaland has been witnessing a steady increase in the unemployment rate over the years. As thousands of Nagas return back to the state due to the lockdown, following the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment crisis in the state continues to be unresolved. However, non-governmental organisations like the Entrepreneurs Associates (EA) are finding way to empower unemployed youths amid the public health crisis.

In its latest initiative, the EA has opened doors for unemployed women, mostly returnees, training them in the art of fruit jam-making. A total of 22 unemployed women, have been trained under two batches so far and another 20 are expected to be trained in the following week.

Speaking about how the idea of training unemployed youths in jam making came about, CEO of the Entrepreneurs Associates Neichute Doulo said that after the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) trained its staff in pineapple jam-making, it was observed that some of the trainees “took it up very well.” He added saying, “If this be so then we could do better. So we thought of returnees.”

He then revealed that during the lockdown, there was a fear that farmers may not be able to sell fruits. “However, when we started working with farmers, to our surprise, this year they managed to sell better than other years,” he said.

“Fruits, particularly Naga pineapples were marketed in huge profits as import from other states decreased and demands in the neighbouring state of Assam increased, as compared to the other years. This made the local market more vibrant,” he added.

He however, admitted that huge number of vegetables could not be sold as farmers could not find a market. “That’s where EA started engaging with farmers and it was one reason why we decided to add or to do value addition of the fruits,” said Doulo.

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Trainees during the jam-making training session in Kohima

Unlike the pineapples, the sale of kiwi fruits drastically dropped. That’s when it decided to try hands on kiwi jam-making. It also became a means through for employment for the returnees. He also revealed that success rate in jam-making is higher and more productive among women.

He further expressed hope that with the experiment in fruit processing and marketing, it will be a success in the coming years which in turn will provide employment opportunities for the local farmers and entrepreneurs. The jam-making is expected to generate around Rs 15,000 with a minimum of Rs 10,000.

“But that’s a good start to me during this lockdown. I hope by next year EA will take up the food processing industry seriously and encourage entrepreneurs to look at this as a viable entity,” Doulo added.

Trainees are made to undergo training for 12 days — six days for the learning process and the remaining six days to trained as skilled labourers. Besides the jam-making lessons, the youths are also trained in business ethics and safety hygiene. The trained youths of the first batch was initially employed for the food processing where an individual earned Rs 800 per day. However, due to financial constraints, the trainees were encouraged to pursue their own venture.

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Some of the finished jam products kept for packaging

“They can actually earn better if they make their own jam and they can have quality control and do vacuum packing. The only drawback is that they don’t have the food licence which is not very easy for anybody to acquire,” he added.

According to the findings following COVID-19 pandemic, it learned that the Agri business needed to be encouraged and that the Agri sector could be seriously taken apart from the retail sector, and other entrepreneurial initiatives.

While EA’s target is to train 100 unemployed women by this year, Doulo is optimistic that by next year, a proper training centre will be established where 50-60 people can be trained at a time. Not just in jam-making, it also aims to expand by exploring pickle-making, bamboo shoot, mushroom, and so on.

Meanwhile, 30-year-old Esther, who has been working in Kolkata was forced to return back to Nagaland after nine years due to her mother’s deteriorating health. She was among the 11 trainees in the second batch. On learning about the free jam-making training for returnees through her sister, she said, “I joined it because I wanted to add to my skill”.

23-year-old Atsula, who left formal education, after her matriculation was also among the trainees. She expressed happiness in training under a healthy environment. She enthusiastically shared about how the training in jam-making will be beneficial and profitable for her to sustain a livelihood.

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Business ethics and safety guidelines for food processing are also taught in the trainings

Besides the unemployed youths, the EA has also been engaging with the local street vendors and farmers in the state by emphasizing on the need to adopt a new lifestyle of having micro-nurseries for fruit trees. It aims to plant 2-3 million fruit trees by 2025.

It recently distributed seeds of chestnut and hazelnut to the women vendors along with poly bags and an amount of Rs 2000 as advance payment. These local women vendors are required to “pay back environmentally” with 100 fruit saplings. In case these women produce more than 100 fruit tree saplings, the EA will buy it from them at market rate.

While this innovative initiative is to encourage women, Doulo said “I think this is what every Naga women can do in their homes. Our climate is conducive. The returnees can also learn from this”. Its estimation is that from the comfort of their homes, if women can raise and produce mixed saplings of 10,000 fruit tree, it can generate Rs 3-4 lakh.

“It is not just about food processing and value addition to food. Even basic nurseries which all of us can do in the comfort zones of our home is what we called developing agri-business in Nagaland,” Doulo concluded.

To tackle the unemployment issue due to the ongoing pandemic, the department of Industries and commerce also launched a portal of the Livelihood generation programme for returned migrant workers. Initiated by the department of industries and commerce and funded by the North Eastern Council (NEC) Shillong, the programme aims to support 100 new enterprises by year end.

The state of Nagaland registered 15,019 of such migrant workers who returned back to the state out of a total of around 27,000 returnees.

The portal was launched by Adviser Industries & Commerce, Labour and Employment, Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Imnatiba at the Secretariat in Kohima on Monday. Towards this programme, the NEC has sanctioned Rs 2.40 crore for implementation.

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