VILLUPURAM: They were deprived of a proper education. Most of these 20 women from Villupuram’s neighbouring villages — Nadukuppam, Vandipalayam, and Devikulam — haven’t completed primary education, but can name more than 1,000 herbs and list their uses. They are now self-sufficient, and contribute significantly to their family income.
The turning point was a project conducted in the Pitchandikulam Forest of Auroville to train rural women. Over six months, these women were taught farming, manufacturing, marketing, accounting, skill development, entrepreneurship, and team building, after which, they launched the Amirtha Herbal Unit and Nursery.
The facility, near the forests of Nadukuppam village at Marakanam, serves as their workplace, where they cultivate herbs, and make medicines, cosmetics and food items, and market them. They sell 35 products, including soap, hair oil, powders for the face, teeth, and body, and medicines in the form of oil, paste, and electuary.
“Despite several requests, we don’t export products because our resources are limited,” says Parvathy Nagarajan, who trained the women. “They came here as homemakers, but now know as much about herbs as a Siddha doctor.”
Sharing her side of the story, one of the women from the unit, B Kalaiselvi, of Nadukuppam, recounts, “I dropped out of school in Class 8 as I had to start working in the fields. I continued even after marriage. But 10 years ago, I came here for training, and have been making a better income ever since.”
Even her trainer, Parvathy, was pressured to drop out of school. “My parents didn’t want me to continue after Class 5, but I managed to complete my schooling. My forefathers were country doctors, and my grandmother taught me about herbs and their uses. I did a few small jobs until I was offered the role of a herbal trainer at the Pitchandikulam forest.” Through sessions at Primary Health Centres (PHCs), Anganwadis, and women self-help groups, among other places, Parvathy has trained nearly 30,000 people, she says.
D Kavitha of Devikulam, another woman from the unit, says, “The first time we left Tamil Nadu was when we went to the national capital to sell our products at an exhibition conducted by the Union government. We have customers across Tamil Nadu, and even from Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad, to whom we courier the products. We also have a stall in the Pudhumai complex near the Villupuram Collector’s office.”
Members of the team say launching the Amirtha Herbal Unit and Nursery has drastically changed their lives, helping them provide economic support to their families. They also use the herbs as home remedies for minor health issues. While some herbs are cultivated on the farm, the rest are taken from the nearby forest or the roadside, says B Nageshwari, a member of the team, adding that they also encourage other villagers to grow herbs. To train the women, the Kaluveli Sustainable Livelihood Women Federation (KSLWF) was formed and a herbal farm set up in Nadukuppam with help from the Tamil Nadu State Rural Livelihoods Mission and the Sustainable Enterprise Development in Auroville Bioregion (SEDAB).
Their new venture to provide livelihood
Members of the team say launching the Amirtha Herbal Unit and Nursery has drastically changed their lives, helping them provide economic support to their families. To train the women, the Kaluveli Sustainable Livelihood Women Federation (KSLWF) was formed and a herbal farm set up in Nadukuppam with help from the Tamil Nadu State Rural Livelihoods Mission and the Sustainable Enterprise Development in Auroville Bioregion (SEDAB)