Very rare are the times we come across true acts of selflessness. How many of us think of giving up a secure job to give back to the society or worry about problems that are bigger than our own?
Anika Pandey quit a lucrative job at the peak of her career. With the aim to find ways of making an impact amongst poverty stricken farmers, she founded the Jagat Kalyan Honey Product Group—an initiative to improve the remuneration capability of tribal beneficiaries through beekeeping.
At 21, Anika Pandey had started working at Goldman Sachs in Bengaluru after completing her graduation from Sri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi. During the time, she was also a volunteer at Magic Bus India, a foundation that focused on teaching life skills to students through sport. Being part of the foundation, she mentored 2,000 children, handling a number of case studies, meeting parents, and engaging with the community. “Because I did a lot of field work, which gave me exposure to my surroundings, there was a significant impact on my thought process leading to the decision of pursuing what I do today as a full-time initiative.”
After putting an end to a two-year-old career, Anika now 24, runs a self-driven initiative single-handedly, using beekeeping as an alternate means of livelihood for a group of 40 tribal farmers who practise subsistence farming in the villages of the Naxal-plagued Gajapati District of Odisha. “The idea is to not replace their primary occupation but to complement it. Beekeeping will provide the farmers with a side-income which can either aid a child’s education or help them take better care of their health,” says Anika. Therefore, farmers who are otherwise heavily dependent on rains can compensate for a year of bad rains by selling honey.
Anika admits that though people complain about corporate jobs, her job gave her the courage to move forward. “My work environment has taught me how to approach problems in a structural way and come up with creative solutions under constraints.” While she worked for the Indian market, her curiosity to know more about how companies who were tapping into rural markets and the Indian civic growth section grew. She began feeling responsible. The most immediate of all realisations came when she interacted with a parent of three daughters at Magic Bus. The mother, who was good at tailoring, refused to work as she did not want to leave her young daughters alone and lacked the equipment to work from home. “It then struck me that people do have the talent but what they lack are the resources,” recalls Anika who then set out with the motive to bridge this gap.
However, when Anika initially gave up her job, a research brought to her notice that the majority of the world's poor were farmers. After this, she joined the NGO, Gram Vikas and began her journey with the tribals of Odisha.
The idea of beekeeping came to her with a bigger picture—“To eliminate hunger by helping farmers become more productive and efficient” and to “preserve apis cerana indica (Indian honeybee), an endangered species.”
Anika got to know that whenever farmers came in contact with a honeycomb, they either burnt or shoved away the bees. Anika realised that it was a fundamental problem that was damaging the environment. Not only were the already endangered bees being harmed, the farmers’ produce was also being affected. Bees are key pollinators and can help crop yield increase up to 40 percent. By shoving the bees away, farmers led them to migrate to different places and hence did not get honey on a sustainable basis. This led to the proposal of “Beekeeping as a Source of Livelihood.”
Working in remote forest regions with bleak telecommunications and transportation made it difficult to mobilise farmers. Anika recalls having to walk eight to 10 km to conduct meetings. Also, the language barrier posed to be a hindrance in terms of effective communication.
On a personal level, Anika suffered from multiple health issues. The farmers had a tough time accepting a woman leader, and often disrespected and abused her. Anika says “It was a herculean task to convince communities, which follow highest levels of patriarchy, to work with a woman not just as a colleague but also a mentor and leader. It was a new experience for them to be led by a woman. Being able to bring together 40 farmers to form the team which is taking this initiative forward, was one of my important early successes.”
According to her, the rewards are always gratifying and these challenges have only driven her to work much harder.
The initiative, in the beginning, was solely dependent on Anika, who did the majority of the training and mobilising of the farmers. Over the past year, there have been positive reforms such as opening a joint account, eliminating the middleman, provision of modern equipment, and introduction of the concept of “bee masters”—leaders of the groups who guide and teach the beneficiaries the art of using sophisticated methods of beekeeping, thereby making them independent.
Currently, the initiative has grown leaps and bounds ever since its inception in October 2016. Meetings and fundraising began from December 2016 and the community received their first harvest a few days ago. Looking forward to the future Anika says “My aspiration for our team of farmers is to establish a full-fledged honey production and processing unit in the gram panchayat so that other villages can also join us in producing honey and sell them to the markets. We are working on getting an FSSAI licence which will further help us market our honey.” She is also looking to expand production in eight villages of Gajapati district and begin the initiative in two villages of the poverty-struck district of Kalahandi by June 2018.
With a resilient spirit, she concludes, “Many a time things have not gone as planned. What I have learnt is, with patience, we should stay ready to factor new information and keep going.”