Neglected weeds economically empowers through rural women’s entrepreneurial initiatives

Nepal’s untapped forest potential has been a subject of discussions on national and international platforms. This holds true for both timber and non-timber based benefits. Women’s preferences for forest resources utilization are largely ignored and often limited to minor forest products. Only 6% women lead the CFUG, which limits their involvement in the decision-making process. One of such minor forest products is the nettle (Urtica dioica) called Sisnoo in Nepali.

Nettle powder enterprise located in remote parts of Sindhupalchowk has avidly sowed the see of empowerment of marginalized women. The abundance of sustainable, high-quality nettles in the forested areas makes nettle collection and processing a sustainable option.

Marginalized women in these regions play pivotal roles as catalysts in the socio-economic, commercial, and cultural aspects, positioning themselves at the core of integrating Sisnoo into various facets of life. This involvement spans from activities such as harvesting and medicine to cultivation, traditional knowledge, embroidery, and trade.

Pictures: Rural site for nettle enterprises.

More than 30 (thirty) rural marginalized women belonging to (Dalits and indigenous groups) won a new identity as “Green entrepreneurs” by actively engaging in the value addition chain of nettle enterprises as: collectors, producers, processors, and marketing agents. These newly recognized entrepreneurs are small-scale farmers and homemakers. These women face multiple forms of discrimination i.e. the combined effects of practices which discriminate based on sex, ethnicity, wealth and physical status including gender-based violence. Engaging in nettle powder enterprise, the women entrepreneurs have travelled a transformational journey of balancing gender relations with increased “say” on ownership of land, resources, and forests.

As said, each drop will collectively become an ocean, this path of empowerment is supported by various institutions, such as District Forest Office, financial institutions like banks and cooperatives, Local Governments, the private sector’s and others.

Laxmi Maya Newar, one of the zealous entrepreneurs, had the biggest collection of raw materials, which was five times more than others, i.e., 15 kg in a week. When inquired about her motivation, she added,

“The main driving force for me was that prior to my entrepreneurial journey, we had to work very hard with mud and sand, covered in cattle manure, for which we were obviously unpaid. I had never imagined that this sisnoo, which was carelessly ignored and wildly scattered, would one day empower us financially and help to create a dignified space in society. I have been constantly putting every ounce of effort into every aspect of this enterprise’s development.”

A short photo story guide to the overall process of the nettle powder Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, L. Urticaceae) preparation:

1) In these areas, high-quality nettles grows naturally in abandoned sites. It takes 6 months to mature, and is harvested in every three weeks from clean areas more in the rainy seasons. Then it’s cleaned, washed, and drained to sterilize it using safety gear like gloves and tongs to prevent electrifying and chilling sensations.

 

2) Blanching is done afterward by boiling it for 15 minutes to remove toxic substances in it like insects, poisons, eggs, dust, etc. It’s soaked by hanging in a traditional way.

 

3) Then it is kept under solar drying until it is completely dehydrated to form crunchy sisnoo.

 

4) The crunchy sisnoo went through the grinding machine, and the sting venom became nonfunctional, with some mild venoms that actually added more nutritional value to it.

 

And finally, it can be consumed directly without mixing any spices or mixed with coriander powder, cumin powder, garlic powder, and cornflower for taste enhancement

These women entrepreneurs are also equipped with technological backing that operates according to green standards and generate no greenhouse gas emissions. One such example is the use of gender-friendly technology like solar dryers that are efficient, time- and energy-saving, cost-efficient, and less labor-intensive. This solar dryer was designed by The National Innovation Center, that responds well to food security and comply with the goals of SDG 7, Affordable and clean energy,”

Sisnoo has been a blessing for Pabitra Pradhan, who is also an Ayurvedic practioner and a veteran community forestry leader in Sindhupalchowk. She believes that sisnoo has been used as a vegetable since time immemorial. It has been proven that if you cook the root of this sisnoo and feed it to children, it strengthens bones, improves digestion, cleans the stomach, cures constipation, and prevents disease. Nowadays, it occupies a great deal of space in the Nepalese kitchen, and culture is infused into the herbal nettle tea, nutritive vegetables.

Historically, the nettle plant is significant from its utilization in warfare to its therapeutic purposes, has made it an intriguing business idea. This enterprises aligns with the SDGs goal 12 ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Empowering Rural Economies: A Journey from Informal Channels to International Trade Fairs.

Ticking more boxes when it comes to benefits, this powder fetches a good price, the women entrepreneurs are selling the nettle powder at Rs 600–800 per kg (USD 6.25) and have started reaping benefits from it. . Nettle has a good market in local, national and international markets. They have sold it via local channels to the International trade fairs. The female entrepreneurs are contributing to a revolving fund with money made from the sale of nettles in order to cover their living expenses, pay their children’s tuition, and improve their livelihood.

Various market niches explored were, Local shops and market places haatbazar, local melas, festive occasion, urban market outreach (kosheli ghar, udhami ghar). Moreover they were displayed and promoted in exhibitions, local trade fair , workshops, International Trade fair and even  advertised using online platforms like Facebook and Tiktok.

As Rome was not built in a day, so were these green entrepreneurs. Time and again, they had to face the policy barriers, go through the tedious registration process, and constantly deal with patriarchal mindsets in the family and society. But with their strong credence, their hope to embark on the entrepreneur’s journey has opened avenues challenging the stereotype that enterprise management is not a cup of tea for women.

Through their 2 years of entrepreneurship, various capacity building programs, Co-ordination with the multiple tiers of the government, policy dialogues, internal as well as external exposure visits, series of the skill development trainings have found to be instrumental in their empowerment and enhanced market skills.

This low-carbon green enterprise models have observed a shift in gender values for the cause of social justice, involving advancements in technology, formalization of enterprises through legal registration, as well as the implementation of branding and labeling strategies.

This  enterprises undoubtly comply with the definition mentioned in one of the research of Subedi, G. (2018). that “Green entrepreneurship are the activity of consciously addressing an environmental/ social problem/need through the realization of entrepreneurial ideas with high level risk, which has a net positive impact on the natural environment and at the same time is financially sustainable.”

The  overall research from the inception period of the this enterprises informs that appropriate women-friendly technologies, resource, service and market access, networking, exposure visits, fair trades, low carbon approach and strategic dialogues with the policy makers and implementers remained instrumental to improve women’s entrepreneurial motivation and performance.

Looking forward, There needs to be more clarity on accessible financing, market linkages, business training, and low-tech/low-cost technologies to encourage the development of sisnoo enterprises by preserving the indigenous skills. Public awareness about its uses is needed, identifying the possible competitors, tracking the market flow is vital.

In a nutshell, these green enterprises can be a beacon of hope for the people of Sindhupalchowk with immense potential to grab both national and international markets. It might further strengthen the resilience of the community by improving livelihoods even in post-earthquake and post-pandemic eras like COVID.