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Sweet Success of Rekha Sharma: How One Woman's SHG is Changing the Lives of Women

Meet a woman agripreneur from a small village in Punjab who has transformed lives by founding the Sada Shiv Modern Self-Help Group, which focuses on natural fruit processing and has achieved national recognition.

Shreetu Singh
Rekha Sharma Empowering Women through Natural Fruit Processing and a Self-Founded SHG
Rekha Sharma Empowering Women through Natural Fruit Processing and a Self-Founded SHG

Born in a middle-class family in Ramgarh Sikri village, Hoshiarpur district, Punjab, Rekha holds advanced degrees in Sociology, IT, and Soil and Water Management. Despite receiving various job offers, she chose her path differently. She leads the "Shiv Modern Self-Help Group," empowering village women with sustainable livelihoods. The group currently comprises 350 members. This initiative processes natural fruit into various products including squash, lemon juice, litchi juice, mango juice, cranberry juice, candies, barfi, pickles, chutneys, and bamboo pickles. They promote these products through farmer fairs, social media, and e-commerce platforms, reaching national and international customers.

The Inception of Her Remarkable Journey

It all started when Rekha was preparing for her 10th standard exams. One day, she went to the sarpanch of her village to get her character certificate signed. There, she saw a woman working in the harsh, scorching heat, trying to earn just Rs 50 to pay for her daughter's school fees. Rekha knew this woman well; she was her classmate’s mother. This incident moved Rekha deeply and she decided to do something impactful about this. She resolved to dedicate her life to supporting women in society who face similar extreme hardships.

Formation of the Self-Help Group

With this thought and her father’s support, Rekha gathered 13 needy women to form the Sada Shiv Modern Self-Help Group in 2003. Initially, she was unsure where to start or how the group would function. They experimented with various activities, from making detergent to other tasks, but could not meet the desired outcome due to the lack of resources and proper training.

One day, a team from the agriculture and horticulture department visited her village for a crop survey. Rekha recalls, “When the team learned about our self-help group, they encouraged us to make pickles using the fruits naturally occurring in the nearby forest area.” This suggestion gave them a ray of hope, and they decided to give it a try. However, this venture also did not bear fruit because of their lack of training.

The times were challenging, Rekha and her group faced difficulties in measuring spices, salt, and other ingredients accurately. Initially, Rekha considered involving trained women in pickle-making to learn proper procedures, but they demanded high fees. Eventually, Rekha sought training from the agriculture and horticulture department team for accurate guidance. They received training from KVK Gurdaspur, Solan, and other places, improving their pickle-making quality. Despite hardships, Rekha remained dedicated to her education, achieving first division in classes 10th and 12th, along with further qualifications. 

Rekha and her group involved in fruit processing
Rekha and her group involved in fruit processing

Success in Pickle Making and selling at the Delhi Exhibition

Over time, the self-help group was invited to an exhibition in New Delhi in 2012. Everything was new to them, and they were scared initially. But with encouragement from her father, Rekha and her group managed to earn Rs 50,000 in a single day by selling their products. Their products were in high demand so they had to bring supplies from the village. All the batches would sell out in no time.

During the exhibition, something unusual happened. A man was seen buying their pickles daily. Rekha recalls, “One day, I asked him how he managed to buy and use pickles every day, and he said he would tell me on the last day. I was surprised and suspicious, but on the final day, I discovered he was a scientist researching the quality of our product. We learned that he found it was completely natural without any preservatives.”

National Recognition and Continued Success

The scientist's research led to Rekha's group receiving well-deserved recognition. They won a National Award for processing natural fruit at the Delhi Haat exhibition, marking a turning point. Punjab's Chief Minister visited, praised their work, and awarded them around 1.36 crore rupees. Subsequently, they also earned the State Award in 2013. They now operate a processing unit on 2 acres of land, focusing on forest fruits. They have around 570 products like squash, candy, and juices. They also excel in micro-packing litchi.

A Role Model and Inspiration

Rekha is a beacon of hope and inspiration for women in her region. She has earned a commendable reputation by making vegetable and fruit processing a viable livelihood. She continues to play a significant role in preserving natural resources and promoting organic farming. Her journey demonstrates that with determination, support, and a willingness to face challenges, one can achieve remarkable success and make a meaningful impact on society.

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