Dalade: The promise of entrepreneurship
By Sonata M Maiong
‘Dalade, is a Khasi word meaning “by myself” which seems like a reasonable explanation as to why a local food processing entrepreneur would choose it as a brand name. It is a word most apt to capture the essence of entrepreneurship.
Food processing as a business in Meghalaya is not new, but since the pandemic the office of the Directorate of Food Processing has been bustling. Unemployed men and women, parents accompanying their children who have lost or left their jobs in other States, young students who are soon to graduate visit seeking information and support to start a business in food processing. The Hon’ble Prime Minister’s call for a self-reliant India and vocal for local has added hope to this dream.
Entrepreneurship is the new ambition. Entrepreneurship in farming and food processing, it appears, the most appealing ambition.
Justifiably so. Suddenly the world is talking about Lakadong turmeric. Trinity Saioo of Jaintia Hills was conferred the Padma Shri for her initiative in mobilising farmers for growing the Lakadong turmeric. Nanandro Sangma of Garo Hills was conferred the Padma Shri for planting 3,400 trees of black pepper. Neighborhood markets now offer locally cultivated kiwis, apples, persimmons, avocados, mushrooms, broccoli and bok choy. Local brands like Zizira established its presence online, CountrySpice launched a brick-and-mortar store in New Delhi, Bee Natural won an award at an international food event. Hon’ble Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma coined the phrase “Meghalaya on the Move” to commemorate this evolution as seen in Meghalaya.
There are however, innumerable untold stories about the spirit of entrepreneurship. Stories that may never find a place on Amazon or win awards at events but ones that equally contribute to moving Meghalaya. 18 local food processing brands were recently selected by a Committee to represent the State at SIAL India 2021 to be held in New Delhi on December 9-11. Each of these 18 brands tells one such story. Junda Marak, who travelled from Garo Hills to showcase her pickles, speaks with demure pride about how she would buy spices from the local kirana store in grams when she first started. She now orders in bulk because her pickle brand has quickly found favour among customers. Anumahasa Sna has named her brand Braves. It does take courage to venture into entrepreneurship. There must be an untold story there of how brave she must have been to start and carry on. Courage also reflects in the case of Wondrous Nonsiej of MFPI, whose minor granddaughter sat besides here and promptly shared images of MFPI products via a smartphone, one which Wondrous doesn’t know how to use.
The stories are not all rosy. There are chapters on risk and loss. An entrepreneur tells of how at the start of his journey, his naivety was taken advantage of by people taking free samples of his products with empty promises to later buy. Another tells us how she has received feedback from many quarters to get her brand’s label and packaging re-designed, to think “premium”. She faces the criticism with a brave smile. Only she knows that she has to ensure that her employees are given their salary, even during lockdown, that her loan EMIs are paid on time and that she has to save enough to sustain business. The pandemic can be harsh. She has learnt that.
Rosy or not, the stories are equally intriguing. Dilseng Sangma of M/S Hills Products manufactures biodegradable plates and bowls from Areca Nut and Sal leaves. He is a self-taught student of the technology used from YouTube. Neha Nialang of Jowai is just 23 years old but her Lakadong turmeric infused honey and cashew butter won the Selection Committee over. Gabil’s chocolate cashews are delectable, TIA’s Spices are aromatic, Omil Farms’ range of honey infused with mustard, mandarin and litchi are an innovative winner, award or not.
As these 18 brands get ready to showcase at one of India’s biggest B2B food exhibitions, one knows that not all of them will garner business at the event. However, each entrepreneur goes in the hope to do so, or at least to learn how to do so. And for each brand that does achieve success, more courage will be gained by others, more entrepreneurs will be born in the State who can tell their story proudly saying we did it “dalade”.
S M Maiong is a consultant currently engaged in projects with the Directorate of Food Processing