writes Usha Hariprasad in thealternative.in on June 18, 2015
All SOS organics products are made from crops that are completely rain fed, chemical free and using natural farming and sustainable agricultural techniques.
A quick look at SOS Organics website and you will realize that there is something more than natural and organic in their varied products. Gur Shakkar, Khandsari sugar as alternatives to white sugar and sweeteners, soap nuts as natural cleansers, environmentally sound beeswax candles devoid of soot/smoke, home care products made of native plant oils, herbs and natural essential oils – these catch your immediate attention. All these products are made from crops that are completely rain fed, chemical free and using natural farming and sustainable agricultural techniques.
The Alternative spoke to its founder, Amrita Chengappa about her venture in Uttarakhand.
A little bit of everything to nourish and heal
Pulses, flour, millet, spices, herbs, pickles, jams, marmalades and honey, tea, as well as beeswax candles – there is a little bit of everything needed to lead a healthy life. Amrita says, “Our line of natural cosmetics is based on apricot kernel oil, and includes soaps, hand creams, face creams, body and foot scrubs, lip balms, and body oil. All items are made with beeswax and precious essential oils and are free of chemicals and hormones.”
Himalayan terrace farms are the source of SOS organic products Courtesy: SOS organics Facebook page
In Uttarakhand, farmers have very small land holdings that are completely dependent on rain. So instead of asking the farmers to grow one particular type of crops, say only rice or millet, Amrita has encouraged mixed farming. “We are targeting indigenous low input crops that they have been growing over the last hundred years. We encourage them to grow a little bit of everything so that it all adds up to become a basket full of goodness to nourish and heal the body,” says Amrita.
Their latest products are based on the humble nettle which has an abundance of health benefits. “One day we became aware of just how much nettle was growing all around us in the wild and nobody was using it. After some in-depth research that took us all the way back to Milarepa, who lived on nettle soup for years while meditating in a Himalayan cave, we began experimenting and created nettle tea and nettle flakes,” says Amrita.
Amrita and her husband who have set up a village unit in Uttarakhand have been closely working with locals there.
“We had the inspiration to move to the Himalayan foothills in 2002, with only an idea to work in a village and bring meaningful employment in the area,” says Amrita. She adds, “We have found that the specific environmental conditions of the Himalaya produces incredible crops. The mineral content in the soil adds to the quality of the crop and it has many medicinal properties as well.”
One of the main issues in the state has been a lack of employment opportunities. So they decided to set up a self-sufficient unit at Kumaon. “My main concern was employment of the local ladies as I believe that all over India it has always been women who run the show and they deserve to be empowered,” adds Amrita.
Happiness that comes with healthy living is the only true happiness! Courtesy: SOS Organics Facebook page
Amrita at this point also mentions, “We did not want to take something or destroy anything from the environment, rather our emphasis has always been on the preservation of biodiversity and environment, and the providing of holistic technologies to ensure highest quality.”
Every village needs to be self-sufficient
Courtesy: SOS organics Facebook page
The company strongly believes in Mahatma Gandhi’s saying that every village needs to be self-sufficient. Their entire unit runs on rain water harvesting. And they work with local small scale farmers from over 70 villages in the Himalayan region.
Amrita further adds, “SOS Organics is an ongoing experiment dedicated as a model for holistic sustainable living in the villages of the Himalaya.”
In addition to the farming techniques, natural processing and product development have also been undertaken. The Foundation is presently deeply involved in special holistic milling techniques, sun drying and sun-UV-radiation, ventilation drying, dehydrator development for low temperature drying, vacuum packing and systematic moisture proof storing of raw material. An extensive initial product line of natural farming produce has been developed and tested in the market and is now available online and in select holistic outlets.
Engaging community and being in tune with rural life
“The problem in the hills is that you cannot do anything that has a lot of volume because the lifestyle is different. We have six hour working days for the ladies as on most days they have to go home, collect water, cut wood etc. Plus in the winter it gets darker soon and in the area where we live there are leopards and other wild animals,” she says.
Happy mornings, happy people Courtesy: SOS Organics Facebook page
So they had to modify their business model, making it in tune with the local life and with less stringent deadlines. They also make sure to celebrate local holidays and to stay connected with the community in all possible ways. “Our aim has always been to make the business model sustainable for everyone from the consumer to the person actually engaged in making these products. We make the people working here comfortable and the orders are worked around this,” says Amrita.
Amrita says, “So much of the incredible knowledge of the Himalayan people is in danger of getting lost. The older living generations have often not been able to pass on their wisdom to the younger people as they have set out to live everywhere else than in their own village, embracing modern life and technology.”
She adds, “The scary thing is that we do not have a proper understanding of traditional knowledge system and what we are replacing it with does not seem to make the grade. People here feed millet to animals as they have been told the white rice is aspirational. We are striving to work against this kind of a mindset.”
“We very much live in the here and now, which is full of experiencing, learning, and understanding. New insights and inspirations happen on their own and we are always ready to say yes! – and embrace yet another venture,” concludes Amrita.
Ma Prem Amrita – www.sosorganics.com