By the Brine: How ‘Pickle Man’ Rawat is transforming Uttarakhand’s economy

In the green-pined hills of rural Uttarakhand, a local entrepreneur is holding people back form migrating through an unusual weapon: local organic achaar.


The terraced hills of rural Uttarakhand are dotted with tiny villages nestled among the green pines of the Himalayas. Smiling women balance jugs of water on their heads, singing ‘Namaste‘ to passers by. But the hills lie fallow and these villagers are few and far between—there is a silent crisis in Uttarakhand. Due to lack of employment opportunities in the region, there is an exodus of young men who are leaving their wives and children behind for better opportunities in cities, the army, or government positions.

With thousands gone and more leaving, the situation looks bleak. But one man proposed a solution: pickles.

Armed with jars of gooseberry and buransh, Mr. Surnam Singh Rawat is determined to reverse the migratory patterns in his beloved homeland. “Why would someone leave if they can make money here, and stay in their native culture? It’s not that there’s no money here – there is. People just need to have the courage and the motivation to do something here.” And so, in 2005, Gramya Fresh was born, producing local organic pickles, candies, and juices in a small factory in the Pauri region of Uttarakhand.

Ankit (24), a master’s student from the small village of Devikhet, says that none of his friends have remained in the village to find the money that Mr. Rawat claims is there for the taking. “When I return to my village now, none of my friends are here. Most are in the army, because there is no opportunity here for employment. There are very few resources. To survive, you first need a good job.” He himself plans to get a government job and leave the state after passing his exams.

Gramya_Fresh_1

But what if people like Ankit could remain in their villages using traditional knowledge in new and innovative ways?

A long time farmer and accredited agriculturalist with 51 training certificates from the government, Rawat wanted to put his vast knowledge to work on the plentiful resources that were going to waste in rural Uttarakhand. “There are a lot of raw materials rotting and going to waste here, because consumption is low and people don’t know how to make use of them,” Rawat explained. “I wanted to both stop migration, and stop the raw products of the area from rotting away. So I started this and employed farmers in the area, thinking this would stop people from moving away and teach them to make use of what the land gives them.”

Rawat is taking those local crops and making unique and in demand products with his company, Gramya Fresh. The small blue factory lies at the top of a dangerously rocky road, surrounded by views of the distant snow-capped Himalayas and the snaking Ganges below. Using only organic ingredients, Rawat’s pickles are as spicy and fresh as they are delicious. He sources all of the ingredients locally, making an effort to buy from producers who most need the extra income, such as widows. Nicknamed the “Iron Man” because of his tremendous effort in the area, he encourages local farmers to make the produce he needs, telling them he will buy it if they grow it. “At first people thought, ‘Why set up an industry here when you can make more money elsewhere?’ But now that they have seen the effect my business is having on their own lives, their perspective is changing. Everyone is realizing how this is useful for them, too.”

Gramya_Fresh_Pickle

In this way, Rawat is encouraging the local economy and a revival of agriculture in the region. He employs 15 people, 10 women and 5 men, regularly, and many more during the high season. He hopes to grow by expanding his product line and the number of farmers impacted by his enterprise. Rawat even dreams of building a guest cottage near his factory, allowing visitors to stay and understand the importance of building local economy. Many visitors have already come to see Gramya Fresh, including a contingent of White House officials from the United States and others from the World Bank.

While this is currently a small endeavour, it holds great promise for the future of Uttarakhand. With the success of Gramya Fresh and enterprises like it will come a revival of the local economy. Young people like Ankit will have more opportunities in their state and no longer have to seek them elsewhere. Plus, there will be more pickle.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zoe, originally from Seattle, is a recent graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont. She is currently living in Bangalore for six months as an IDEX Fellow, working full time at Jaaga. With a background in political communications, she is passionate about women's reproductive rights, education, and sustainable social change. She loves traveling, reading and coffee! more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zoe, originally from Seattle, is a recent graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont. She is currently living in Bangalore for six months as an IDEX Fellow, working full time at Jaaga. With a background in political communications, she is passionate about women's reproductive rights, education, and sustainable social change. She loves traveling, reading and coffee! more

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