NOIDA: Tables have turned for a 32-year-old Sadhna Yadav who was once jeered for her entrepreneurial ambition, but now cuts a figure of respect in her community.
Sadhna is one of the 10 directors of the first and all women-led potato chips company in Uttar Pradesh's Firozabad district.
"Earlier my family members would say that so many people have tried their hands at business but are biting dust now. There's no need to go out. Others in the village would jeer at us when we went out to work."
"They would say these women have gone mad but the same people now see us with respect and say look what miracle these women have done," Sadhna told PTI encapsulating how the fortunes have swung for the chip-making women.
Firozabad falls in the potato belt of UP and is even more famous for its glass works and bangles.
According to official estimates, the district produces around 1.40 crore quintals of potato every year but had no local chips factory until 650 women got together to open 'Arch Chips'.
The company 'Arch Chips' in the Shikohabad area is not a typical business firm.
It has 10 directors and 650 shareholders - all of them women and members of a self help group (SHG) with none having business experience and only a handful have studied beyond school.
The SHG members pooled in Rs 3,000 each while the 10 directors additionally took a loan from bank to set up the factory in April last year.
The first chips packet came out in November 2021 and by this year April, Arch Chips has rolled out over six lakh packets that have been distributed across the district through SHG members.
Sadhna Yadav, who lives in Nagla Shahadlal in Shikohabad, said the target is to attach 1,000 women with the SHG and take the product beyond Firozabad also.
Her family has 15 bigha of land with two brothers who grow potatoes.
"This project has helped us get employment locally. It has also helped us sell our produce of potatoes directly to the company and not through middlemen, saving us the hassle of inadequate and delayed payment, logistic charges," Sadhna, the mother of two school-going children, said.
Priyanka Devi, who has two daughters, aged 5 and 3, has studied till Class 12 and had got married after that.
Born into a poor family in Etawah's Saifai, she came to her husband's house in Firozabad after marriage.
The family, like thousands others in the district, is into potato farming and had low, unsteady income until 2020.
The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic made situation worse for her and many others she knew.
She said she had joined the SHG three years ago and is now one of the directors of the company.
She said she had no previous experience of running a business but wanted to make the best of her education.
"I had studied till 12th and got married after that. I belonged to a very poor family in Etawah's Saifai area. My husband's family is into potato farming. We have 18 bigha land among three brothers, including my husband," she told PTI.
"Now our whole produce goes to the chips company. This saves us the trouble of going to the middleman who used to buy our produce at throwaway prices. Earlier we sold at Rs 350-Rs 400 (per quintal) but we sold it recently for Rs 800 quintal and got the money directly," Priyanka said.
"We are still in our starting phase. The 10 directors of the company are getting around Rs 5,000 per month, while the other members of the group are shareholders of the company and will get their dividend from the profit annually," she said.
Before this, the women, most of whom balance family work with farming, said they had no independent income of their own.
According to officials, despite the bumper potato harvest in Firozabad, the district did not have any native chips factory, let alone a facility that could take on multinational companies whose products have made way into nooks and corners of even villages.
Besides help with paper work for floating the all women-led company, the administration also ensured that potato growers got good quality seeds from the horticulture department at subsidized rates.
"When one thinks of potato or any other chips made by self help groups, they imagine oily products stuffed in transparent packets," Firozabad Chief Development Officer Charchit Gaur told PTI.
"But Arch Chips has dispelled that myth. These potato chips are at par, or even better, than some of the big brands be it in terms of taste or packaging," he said.
"Arch Chips is the first potato chips factory of Firozabad despite it being a long standing demand in the district. There are small and big factories in nearby districts like Agra and Etawah too," the 2016-batch IAS officer said.
Gaur said the company is in talks with the IRCTC, the catering service provider for the railways, and the UP state road transport corporation (UPSRTC) for permit to sell Arch Chips at railway stations and bus stands.