Blog: Farmers Build Income—and a Business—Through a Humble Dumpling

In Odisha, a coastal state of Eastern India, black gram badi is a staple of the local cuisine. “The women know how to make it; they don’t need any kind of training,” explains Srujanwita Mohapatra, gender associate for the Promotion and Stabilization of Farmer Producer Organizations (PSFPO) project, which Tanager has been implementing in Odisha since 2020. The project supports Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) to better operate and ensure a sustainable livelihood for its farmer shareholders.

Badi is a sort of dumpling that can be consumed on its own as a fried or baked snack or used in local curries. Now, this unassuming food is helping the women farmers of the Vegicoasta Farmer Producer Company to both earn extra income for their households—and make a name for themselves as businesswomen.

Floods make way for new understanding

It began, in a way, with a badi making competition in March of 2022. Mohapatra had organized the competition in recognition of International Women’s Day—with the idea that this could turn into something more. “Instead of only doing cultural activities for International Women’s Day, I wanted the participants to realize that this could be an opportunity for them,” she says.

Nothing more came of it, until the month of August. Being a coastal state, Odisha is frequently affected by natural disasters, and that month saw the annual monsoons, which led to heavy flooding. Villagers were confined to their homes. Water stood for more than two weeks, ruining crops. The conditions negatively impacted a number of FPOs. Vegicoasta, an all-woman FPO, was one of those affected.

A number of the women in Vegicoasta had previously attended trainings on value-added products beyond simply growing and selling crops. They hadn’t previously recognized the importance of these additional income-generating activities. Now, though, they understood.

Fifteen women subsequently joined together to establish a badi processing center in Odisha’s Badamachhapur village.

Gaining market favor for quality, flavor

Making badi is time-consuming: The black gram bean must first soak for eight to 10 hours, after which it’s ground to form a dry batter. Women form small balls out of the batter. The balls must then dry in the sun for 2-3 days depending upon the heat of the sun.

To assist in the production process, Tanager has provided a 60-liter black gram grinding machine, to prepare the batter. Depending on the weather, 40 women farmers—the operation has attracted more participants since its early days—produce 30 to 40 kg of black gram badi every week.

Over the past few months, Vegicoasta FPC has begun to regularly sell the black gram badi at market stalls and special exhibitions. While there are competitor products, Vegicoasta’s distinction is in their being licensed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. The certification, which Tanager had helped the Vegicoasta apply for, offers a certain quality guarantee.

Indeed, Vegicoasta’s “Nimapada Badi” is quickly gaining market favor because of its quality, packaging style, and flavor. The production staff ensures product hygiene and quality by donning a head cap, mask, gloves, and apron; purchasing high-quality black gram; utilizing paper pouches for packing; and disinfecting containers and materials with warm water.

Rupees in hand to bring back home

The processing center has begun providing a consistent source of revenue for Vegicoasta’s women farmers. Black gram badi, after all, pays a higher rate than raw black gram, resulting in greater farmer profit. Even after accounting for production costs, says Mohapatra, “these women are getting in hand to bring back home.”

The badi processing center has further made enough of a difference for Vegicoasta members that two other Tanager-supported FPOs have also begun making use of the processing facility for their own badi.

The model Badi processing center is now negotiating better price and market positioning with Reliance Retail and Big Basket. It is also attempting to attract more female shareholders and equip the center with a solar dryer for year-round manufacturing of black gram badi. Tanager is also assisting Vegicoasta and the other FPOs with getting their product onto an e-commerce platform so they can sell their badi throughout India.

Future aspirations

Besides the economic benefits, however, are the intangible—but very real—benefits. The processing unit helps these women’s mental health by allowing them to spend ”we time“ together. “They now have an opportunity to get out of their home, and when people ask what they do, they just show the badi package,” Mohapatra explains.

She adds: “The badi processing center has created an impact. Before Tanager got involved, some farmers were feeling like the FPOs weren’t making any difference for them. The processing center has proved them wrong.”

Even better, they’re seeing for themselves what female empowerment and entrepreneurship looks like in rural India. Suchitra Behura is a board member for Vegicoasta and one of the founding members of the model processing center. “We were earlier recognized by our husband’s name, but now people perceive us as entrepreneurs,” she says.