Rajesh Ojha, a class 12 pass out from Beda village of Pali district in Rajasthan’s Marwar belt dreamt of giving a new recognition to forest produce.
His vision, which emanated 4 years ago, has developed into a full-fledged production unit, employing nearly 600 tribal women in Udaipur district.
Rajesh completed his high school from Pali and then took up a training course in the Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, Udaipur, where he learnt the process of extracting pulp from Sitafal (Custard-Apple or Sugar Apple – scientific name Annona Squamo), its processing and storage procedures.
Custard Apple or Sitafal is grown as a staple fruit in the tribal belt of Udaipur district. During the ripe season, tonnes of custard apple are sold to vegetable markets, fruit vendors and to local shops and on the highway. The margin is very low and the produce does not generate much revenue for the tribals.
Rajesh took it upon himself to study this produce and the quantity in which is it is grown in this belt. He decided to extract pulp from this fruit and sell it as a branded produce. He began his journey with setting up Jovaki Agro Food India Pvt Ltd.
He initially hired 75 tribal women from five villages in the region. These women were responsible for plucking the fruit, extracting the pulp and packaging the produce. Rajesh has opened two processing centers in Nandeshma and Jaswantgarh villages in Gogunda, which is 50 km from Udaipur.
Rajesh explains that the pulp is first stored in the cold storage units in these processing centers, at minus 35 degrees Celsius. Once the pulp hardens, the produce is sent to the cold storage in Udaipur, from where it is supplied to various food processing units across India. It is known as Frozen Sitafal Pulp.
Rajesh has now extended the product range to include jamun (black berries) and anwla (goose berries) among half a dozen other forest produce. He is processing these forest produce to develop his products, which are being sold directly and through online channels.
Over the years, the startup has employed nearly 600 tribal women, of which 450 are busy in growing, plucking and transporting the fruit to the processing centers and 150 women are in the centers to extract pulp and package the product for sale. Training for the entire process is being provided at these centers.