A Chance Meeting With a Lady Farmer
Zizira depends on its team of explorers to understand the agricultural sector, to network with farmers through field visits and to identify healthy, little known produce to market. It looks like the Zizira explorers are on ‘operation mode’ 24×7. Not just they, even their family members.
How the team got to meet a lady farmer Bernadethe reads like a series of unconnected events, strung together thanks to the ‘on’ mode of the Zizira team of explorers and their families! Read on to see why.
One day, in a hospital in Shillong, in the month of May, 2015
- The father of a Sr. Manager in Zizira is unwell and is in a hospital.
- Her mother (call her ‘mom’) is keeping watch on him in the ICU.
- mom loves plants and gardening and is sharing her love for plants with someone sitting next to her.
- On hearing mom’s interests in gardening, a lady comes from across the room to meet mom and they get talking.
- She introduced herself as Bernadethe. She says she was at the hospital taking care of her son.
- It turned out Bernadethe was a successful lady farmer of Meghalaya!
This event, of a chance meeting between mom and Bernadethe, results in the Zizira team getting to know her too. It turned out Bernadethe was an amazingly talented, much celebrated, yet humble lady farmer. Zizira found in her a guide and well-wisher!
Here is what the Sr. Manager in Zizira said:
Bernadethe told my mom about her business – agriculture and floriculture. Since, my mom knew from me about our new venture “Zizira” she told Bernadethe that she should meet me and told her that somehow she should help Zizira with her expertise.
Remember – ‘Mom’ is not a Zizira employee, but look at her concern and interests for Zizira – just because she too believes in the need to help Northeast farmers. Though mom had her worries, as her husband was not well, she remembered about Zizira and sought Bernadethe’s help for the venture!
Within a few months of this event Zizira explorers visited lady farmer Bernadethe in her farm. Here is her story, as heard by the team.
How did Lady Farmer Bernadethe start?
Bernadethe started small. One day she saw an advertisement about a government scheme to support farmers to build poly-houses. She applied and got approved, That was in the year 2002.
With a polyhouse in place, Bernadethe had control over temperature and air conditions. Her love for the soil, her adventurous spirit and love for learning and grit to see her through any challenges saw her become a leading lady agriculturist-entrepreneur of Meghalaya. And a feted one. Here is a report on her award from the Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India as published in the Meghalaya Times and in The Telegraph, India.
What does Bernadethe grow?
- Her main line of business is cultivating and selling flowers, ginger and strawberries.
- She grows Lillies, Gerberas and Anthuriums and even Chrysanthemum.
- She gets the seeds from the Government office.
Her Leadership Qualities Shines Through
Bernadethe lead from the front and was able to motivate other farmers to follow her example.
- People were inspired and got in touch with her to build poly-houses and started similar business.
- Now there are 250 groups – YES! You heard right – 250 GROUPS of 10 members each in RiBhoi district following Bernadethe’s model.
- The groups meet and have even gone on field trips all over India!
- Her 6 Acre farm is off the road from Shillong to Guwahati, in Umran
We asked Bernadethe her how she did it – her secret of success and she said:
“It was because I was always sharing and helping others and never gave up (determination and grit)”
“We all got the impression that she is very frugal too – she doesn’t waste anything” said a Zizira team member.
With seven children and a village teacher husband, she is the epitome of a normal Khasi housewife but with one exception; she is also a business woman” says a news report by Meghalaya Small Farmers Agri Business Consortium
Achieved Three Milestones
- Helped her husband support their family
- Took care of schooling of her children
- By 2008 she retired all her loans
MBDA Officials Were a Great Support
Bernadethe says she owes everything to two people who helped her begin and continued to help her through her struggles – Mr. Shanpru and Mr. B.K. Sohliya of Meghalya Basin Development Authority (MBDA). Mr. Shanpru helped in marketing and was ever ready to be of any support she needed. She remembered a time when he gave her training at 2 am in the morning. Mr. Sohliya helped her start growing strawberries and flowers. Both of them were always reachable and Bernadethe feels that this support encouraged her to work tirelessly and succeed.
A Funny Incident
Once on a field trip to Delhi I got lost in a tram and called Mr. Sohliya who was in Maharashtra to guide me! said Bernadethe with a laugh
Bernadethe showed us around her farm, which was large. There were various flowers in her poly-house; vegetables were growing in the fields; and adjacent to this farm was her paddy field. She grows red rice which is for her family’s consumption, said a Zizira team member.
Makes and Uses Own Organic Fertilizer
Every farmer in her community follows organic agriculture. Even pesticides are made organically.
A Major Disaster – but Did Not Get Deterred
“It was the year 2006. My strawberries were ready to be plucked and sold. And, there was a heavy downpour – both rain and hail – for all of 5 mts. But, it was so intense that the whole crop was wiped out! I lost Rs. 4 lakhs (approx US $6000 to 7000)” said Bernadethe, in a matter-of-fact way. It was like ‘challenges are part of life, more so for farmers and she could handle it’.
Zizira explorers stay in touch with Bernadethe. In fact she is helping Zizira test a few seeds of new varieties of flowers and herbs. Zizira has a guide and well-wisher in her!
“Bernadethe had GRIT and she has a positive influence on many farmers in RiBhoi district. Our meeting was a memorable one. We learned a lot. And, we had many moments of fun and laughter too, such was her personality.
Highly likely that there other farmers like her who have inspiring stories to share, is it not? We look forward to meeting them in our future explorations” said one of the Zizira team members.
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