People's Basic Needs

He Quit His Marketing Job to Sell Desi Snacks by Rural Women, Now Earns in Lakhs!

In December 2017, when Vinay Kothari ventured out on a trek to the Malnad region of the Western Ghats, little did he know that a business idea would strike him there.

 Check out these yummy snacks by GO DESi, brimming with several health benefits and a great addition to your healthy diet regime.

“Once we returned from the trek, I ate these amazing jackfruit bars at a chai ki tapri (tea shop) that were made from endemic jackfruits by a local SHG. They were preservative-free, tasted heavenly, and I wondered why these products were not available in urban markets,” recalls the 34-year-old former marketing professional.

The very next day, he bought 30 kg of local and regional products to sell at a stall in a flea market at the Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru.

Vinay Kothari, the founder of GO DESi Foods

“We had booked the stall for three days, but our products sold out in the first half of the first day. This led to the hypothesis that traditional regional products have great demand. This is the understanding based on which GO DESi was founded,” he says.

GO DESi is a packaged food brand which creates treats inspired by regional flavours and was founded by Vinay in March 2018.

Creating a sustainable ecosystem 

Since the team wanted to capture local flavours in their products, they needed to identify entrepreneurs in the area who were preparing these edibles, and procure them.

Thus, began the search, and the team was helped in the process by local NGOs, Foundations and Cooperatives like the Deshpande foundation. Trust was built over time, and it gradually deepened as the entrepreneurs started benefiting from this association. Today, they earn a profit of almost 25 per cent since they started working with GO DESi.

Vinutha, a local entrepreneur with GO DESi, who prepares the imli pops

The Deshpande Foundation and the Kadamba Cooperative also helped GO DESi in finding local connects which helped them set up their units.

Today, most of their operations are based out of Sirsi, and they also have six micro-units in rural and semi-urban areas in Karnataka.

“All our products are ‘as is,’ meaning, they are made in a traditional manner by locals with tremendous knowledge about indigenous ingredients, flavours, giving GO DESi products an unparalleled authenticity,” he says.

He continues, “Apart from taking our consumers back to their roots, we also aim to be the slingshot for rural entrepreneurs manufacturing traditional products and thereby enabling them to scale up.”

The start-up has a line of products like imli (tamarind) pops, jackfruit bars, lemon chaat, dried banana, among others.

The best selling among these is the imli pop—Vinay claims that over 2 million of these candies have been sold till date. The demand is so high that out of the six micro-units that they have, three manufacture only imli pops!

The GO DESi core team

Janet Lee, 37, a homemaker, was browsing through her Instagram feed when she came across the ad for imli pops. “I initially bought them because it reminded me of my school days when we would eat imli golas after school,” says the mother of two.

Once she purchased the candies, she found that her daughters loved them, and since the ingredients are all-natural, she felt that it was a healthier alternative than regular candy.

Janet is also a fan of the product’s packaging.

Interestingly, when asked about the challenges he faced, Vinay mentions that packaging was actually something that the start-up initially found challenging, but they got over that and introduced standardised packaging.

Another hurdle involved approaching and convincing hard-to-please retailers, but they overcame this challenge too by being persistent and as their operations grew, people started liking their products.

Empowering communities

Women employed at the Sirsi unit and preparing the imli pops

Another reason why Janet was inclined towards buying their products because she found that it was prepared by local entrepreneurs and women in the rural and semi-urban areas.

To expand its operations in these areas, Vinay hired Radhakrishna, a local, as a unit manager, as knew the area well. He was responsible for recruiting people to work in the unit, and they concentrated on hiring rural women.

Shivamma, 35, was a former farm labourer before she joined the GO DESi unit as an employee in their unit in Sirsi, Karnataka. It was difficult for her to make ends meet as her husband only grows groundnuts between July to September, and she needs to look for work in the other months. She speaks about the time she worked as a farm labourer getting employed only 10 to 15 days in a month and earning only Rs 150 in a day.

“I feel so much more secure now. Not only do I get 25 days of guaranteed employment, but also gets paid more because of which, I can use this money to support my family,” she says.

The money is transferred directly into the bank accounts of these women so that they have full control over their hard-earned money. If they do not have an account, the team helps them open one.

While the brand began with a 3-person team–including Vinay’s sister Raksha and Akhil (Operations Head)–today, there are 9 core team members and approximately 75 people who directly or indirectly work for the company. Out of these, at least 80 per cent of the total employees are women.

In addition to that, they also have farmers who they directly source the raw materials from directly.

“We have procured approximately 20 tonnes of tamarind and 50 tonnes of jaggery directly from farmers since they started we started operations,” says Vinay.

Currently, although the operations are limited to Karnataka, GO DESi wants to expand in other states in southern India, and eventually, north-east and central India.

“We see GO DESi developing as a platform which enables small, and micro-entrepreneurs from rural areas access to urban markets. We see GO DESi as a brand which takes desi products to the world,” Vinay signs off.

 Check out these yummy snacks by GO DESi, brimming with several health benefits and can be a good addition to your healthy diet regime.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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IIT Students Create Rs 40 Food Aid Packet For Disaster Relief That ‘Grows’ With Time!

In 2015, floods devastated the Coromandel Coast of South of India, and it took the states a long time to limp back to normalcy. Given that I have a large part of my family residing in these parts of the country, the impact of it all was very real. One of the things that I will never forget was how getting even the basic food supplies was getting difficult. An elderly aunt of mine living alone in one of the flood-hit areas had to wait for two and a half days for someone to reach her to just bring her a packet of milk and bread.

It is again the dreaded time when many parts of India are experiencing torrential downpour, causing floods and to provide nutritious food to disaster struck victims – Megha Agrawal and Shikhar Prakash, both third-year students at IIT Guwahati and IIT Madras respectively have worked together on an invention – GreenAid. The emergency ration food packet comes with seeds, culture and water which can be consumed immediately or be left for microgreens to grow to be consumed later.

If you are on the lookout for some healthy and wholesome snack options then click here.

In this conversation, they speak about their motivation behind working on this idea, how it all came together, and their vision for the future of the product.

How did a student from Guwahati and Madras come together? (L-R) Shikhar Prakash, IIT Madras and Megha Agrawal, IIT Guwahati

As part of a six-week immersive programme held at IIT Gandhinagar, called Invent@IITGN, both Megha and Shikhar got to work together. Speaking about this, Shikhar says, “During the programme, we both realised that we wanted to use technology to solve an issue. I am from Guwahati and given that Megha is studying there, we decided to look into the problem that the floods lead to.”

Both Megha and Shikhar’s teams worked on the theme of natural disasters. The group was then further divided, and given the common interest that both Megha and Shikhar shared, they were paired.

What is GreenAid?

Megha explains what the packet contains, “A mix of dried porridge, seeds, yogurt culture, and a packet of clean water is what the ’emergency ration’ contains. Once the beneficiary gets the pack, all they have to do is open the water packet and add it to the seeds and yogurt culture. This will help in creating an ideal condition for the seeds to sprout.”

The team read about how malnourishment quickly spreads among people affected with natural calamities. And that led them to this innovation.

“Unlike the majority of current food relief aid, GreenAid grows in nutritional value over time. We use microgreens, which are rich in vitamins and minerals. The growing span of chosen microgreens is 5 to 7 days and are many times more nutritious than their fully grown counterparts.”

Megha Agarwal

“Microgreens can also be described as plants that haven’t grown into adult plants yet. They are packed with nutrition and satiate hunger well. Also given that they take up almost no space, it works well when it has to be transported to a disaster struck area,” informs Shikhar.

The duo faced their set of challenges and frustrations during the experimentation period. “In our case, there was absolutely nothing we could do to speed the process of the growing of the microgreens, so what we learnt instead was to be patient,” smiles Megha.

They also had to work extensively on ensuring that the packaging was perfect and none of the microgreens were disturbed while being transported.

Shikhar says, “It is shipped compressed to maximise shipping and storage efficiency. The packaging can be easily opened to eat the contents inside for either immediate consumption or alternatively, the packaging can be kept closed to provide space for microgreens to grow.”

Shikhar Prakash

They also mention that special consideration has been taken so that the insides of the packaging remain sterile and prevent contamination. Therefore, the beneficiary can keep it for a few days.

GreenAid is priced at Rs 25, for bulk orders and between Rs 30 to Rs 45 in case the volume is lesser. Both Megha and Shikhar are excited about what they have created. They have applied for an Indian patent and are in the process of applying for an international patent as well.

“We were sure of two things – we wanted to work towards finding a solution to the problems that floods cause and we wanted to ensure that we provide food that is nutritious during such times,” says the team.

Also Read: IIT Gandhinagar Students Build Low-Cost Portable CPR That Can Save Thousands of Lives!

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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This Woman Quit Her Job to Help Sonam Wangchuk Transform Education in Ladakh!

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of Ladakh’s first ever university.

However, experts believe that there is still a very long way to go before these institutions meet the needs of the local populace.

Organic, natural, and adulteration-free—this honey produced by marginal farmers and beekeepers, comes all the way from the mountains of Kashmir. 

Responding to these local concerns, Sonam Wangchuk, the legendary social activist and entrepreneur, has set up a university in Phyang village of Ladakh called the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL).

Partnering him in this endeavour as HIAL’s Co-founder-CEO is the remarkable Ms Gitanjali JB, a serial entrepreneur, educationist, Odissi and Russian Bolshoi ballet dancer and a certified karate black belt.

“Two years ago, upon hearing about the HIAL alternative education initiative in Ladakh and the prospect of its transformational impact on higher education in India, she gave up her corporate career and moved to Ladakh to help expedite the setting up of the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives (HIAL). What makes all this more touching is that she is offering her services pro-bono,” says Sonam Wangchuk, speaking to The Better India.

Born into a Punjabi Jain business family in Balasore, Odisha, 46-year-old Gitanjali’s grandfather had migrated from Lahore during Partition. It was her mother, a progressive homemaker, who sowed the seeds of learning and independence.

“My parents gave me the two best gifts a child can get—trust and freedom”, she begins.

A physics graduate, she completed her MBA from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. What followed was a six-year corporate career working in a consulting company and leading the marketing division for a Copenhagen-based Indian multinational.

Following her stint in Denmark, she went on a 15-year long entrepreneurial spree, during which she established an engineering firm (Pushan Projects), a publishing house (Chennai-based Helios Books) and acquired a hospital (Puducherry-based AUM Hospitals).

Gitanjali JB

First tryst with the education sector

However, it was a short stint (2015) heading the Cambridge School in Chennai, which truly opened up Gitanjali to the education sector.

Back then, it was a school which had children until Class VIII, but planned to scale up their operations to adopt the IB programme for students in Class XI and XII.

In Gitanjali, the school management found a woman who was both a CEO and an educationist; that one year, she would spend Monday to Friday running the school, while on the weekends she would return to Puducherry and oversee operations at the hospital.

“Within a week of my joining, the maths and physics teachers had left, and they needed a short-term replacement. The school requested me to step in, and I accepted. Although I had never taught in a classroom, what helped me during my time there was being a life-long learner and a very engaged mother with my son, Aryan. Within a month, I found genuine happiness in teaching the students, and they, in turn, began loving the subjects,” she says.

One of her core principles in life is constant learning and reinventing oneself at all times.

“I found in myself a researcher, academician and someone who loved enterprise. Unfortunately, until my stint at Cambridge School, there was no avenue for me to combine all these passions in one career,” adds Gitanjali.

During her time there, she was working to obtain an IBDP affiliation for the school and relocate to a bigger campus in the city, and also attended several workshops that introduced her to the best education practices prevalent in the country. In addition to all this, she was already exposed to the educational practices and policies of the prestigious Doon School where her son, Aryan, is a student.

She wasn’t too impressed though, and believed that a lot more could be done in teaching indigenous knowledge, raising student-teacher engagement and learning by physically doing something.

After her contract with Cambridge School came to a close, she wanted to establish a school which would inculcate these elements, but mitigating circumstances came in the way.

Gitanjali in a traditional Ladakhi dress.

Multifaceted, interdisciplinary

Ever since she was a child, Gitanjali had varied interests that went much beyond the cursory. However, she felt pin-holed throughout her life.

“I found a lot of subjects, disciplines, art forms and sports fascinating, but this wasn’t considered normal. I was heading towards a full-blown identity crisis till three events changed everything for me,” she recalls.

In college, a professor told Gitanjali that someone with her varied interests and intellectual capacity would make for an entrepreneur and CEO, where she could see the big picture and take other people along.

The second event was a ballet performance she attended in Copenhagen watching a conductor managing 30 people in an orchestra and 50 dancers on stage. She noticed that the conductor wasn’t as skilled in playing an instrument or dancing compared to the performers on stage, but could take everyone along and create a symphony out of it.

Gitanjali is also a trained Russian Bolshoi ballet dancer, which she learnt in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Finally, it was her introduction to Sri Aurobindo, the 20th-century Indian philosopher, at the age of 16 and his principles of Integral Growth and Education, which helped her not only come to terms with her multifaceted personality but celebrate her diverse interests.

“I have always believed that we should develop all sides of our personality and pick up different skills in life. Leonardo da Vinci could draw the Vitruvian Man because he was trained as an artist, mathematician, botanist and a philosopher. It’s at the cross-section of disciplines where great ideas are born. Reality is composite and interdisciplinary,” argues Gitanjali.

HIAL & Beyond

It was a WhatsApp message in February 2017, which alerted Gitanjali to Sonam Wangchuk’s plans of starting HIAL.

By May, she had already begun raising funds for it. So far, HIAL has raised about Rs 10 crore, which has taken care of construction costs for this year and last year. The institute has another Rs 10 crore of funding in the pipeline.

“HIAL is about learning by doing, where students set up their own enterprises. There is an entrepreneurial aspect which comes out, but at the same time, it’s backed by a conceptual understanding of a business plan and industry. Finally, it’s all set within a particular geographic and cultural context along with all the awareness to become a responsible and socially conscious entrepreneur,” she says.

Standing with the VC of Kashmir University Talat Ahmad, Sonam Wangchuk and the first cohort of HILLs fellows.

In HIAL, as per the curriculum design, Gitanjali has taken up all the issues that the ecosystem in Ladakh faces alongside concerns like the migration of young people due to lack of opportunities.

For her, academia, research and entrepreneurship have come together here.

“In 2017, when I met Sonam Wangchuk in Mumbai, HIAL was at the inception stage. The crowdfunding process had begun a few months earlier. So, in May 2017, I relocated to Ladakh, becoming the first person after Sonam to join the initiative,” she recalls.

Right from registering the land, raising funds, setting up the 11-month HILLs (Himalayan Institute of Live Learnings) Fellowship (which seeks to empower the youth from mountain communities, particularly from the Hindu Kush-Himalayan regions) and designing the curriculum, Gitanjali has partnered Sonam Wangchuk.

Also Read: Organic & Scrumptious: Why Ladakh is Home to The World’s Sweetest Apricots!

There are four aspects to HIAL’s unique curriculum:

1) Contextual learning: This essentially looks at understanding the basic ecology of a mountainous cold desert-like Ladakh and applying key lessons in coming up with local solutions to real-life problems like building eco-responsive homes that stay +20 degrees Celsius in -20 degree Celsius temperatures or planting trees that help prevent flooding or landslides in these parts.

2) Entrepreneurship and experiential pedagogy: This is about identifying local issues, finding solutions and monetising it. An example is the module on responsible tourism, where questions like ‘how do you kick-start the rural economy by stopping urban migration from the villages of Leh district’ are addressed.

For example, HIAL has started farm stays in Phyang village. This is experiential pedagogy where students would be trained to run these farm stays, organise treks or build a traditional eco-friendly building and they would be learning while doing these real-life jobs. Only 30% of the classes are in a classroom, while the remaining time is spent in the field.

3) Reclaiming indigenous knowledge systems: “Words like sustainability did not exist in Ladakh’s traditional vocabulary because the people didn’t know how else to live. It was sustainable by design” says Gitanjali.

But, there are things that we can take from the past and blend it with the modern. One example is the traditional compost toilet where you do not waste water by flushing it, but instead, compost human waste, and that goes back into the field.

As this is not very comfortable for the average consumer, the students and faculty at HIAL are redesigning it on their campus to address this concern.

4) Interdisciplinary: Most modules are interdisciplinary. For instance, the fellowship started with the fellows planting a small forest of 600 square metres. Through this they understood the geology, hydrology, glaciology, botany and other aspects of Ladakh. Also they take care of the forest, thereby forming a relationship with the plants and developing empathy with the plant world.

This year, HIAL has taken on only ten students from Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. “Although it’s a post-graduate fellowship, we are an institution that values experience as much as educational qualification. While having a basic bachelor’s degree is an essential qualification, we have also taken those who don’t have a degree but have hands-on experience in tourism or afforestation, and they want to get better at it,” says Gitanjali.

Besides HIAL, she has also led the curriculum design and development for the Maharashtra International Educational Board (MIEB) in 2017 and is currently advising and helping Auroville start its own university.

In addition, Gitanjali also teaches karate to students at SECMOL, Sonam Wangchuk’s Alternative School, and has set up an initiative called Peaceful Warriors, where the objective is to make every girl in India a black belt.

Gitanjali and her ‘Peaceful Warriors’, including Sonam Wangchuk.

Nonetheless, her real contribution in Ladakh lies in setting the foundations for HIAL. Bringing this radically different approach to higher education in such a place has positive implications that are beyond the immediate.

Mountainous regions like Ladakh are the epicentre of the battle against climate change. Solving problems associated with it, developing an eco-friendly consciousness, and empowering people from the region economically and responsibly are facets that can only help them in the long term.

Through HIAL, people like Gitanjali and Sonam Wangchuk have built the first building blocks for the region’s future. What more can one ask for!

(You can visit the HIAL website to know more.)

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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IAS Topper Cracks UPSC Exam in 1st Attempt, Shares Strategy For Current Affairs

Born and brought up in the national capital, Pratishtha Mamgain’s roots are in Uttarakhand.

A graduate of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, Pratishtha started preparing for the exam in 2016—the same year she passed out of college. A year later, she appeared for the Civil Service Examination for the first time and secured an All India Rank of 50.

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Pratishtha is currently undergoing her district training at Vishakhapatnam and is posted as an Assistant Collector (training).

In this conversation, she discusses her preparation tactics and gives some helpful tips for UPSC aspirants.

“I primarily referred to The Hindu and the Indian Express. Up until the prelims I used [The] Hindu as my main source of information and gave a cursory glance to IE, but after the prelims, I switched it up. IE became my main source of information, while I continued reading the editorial in The Hindu,” she begins.

Why asked about the switch, she explains that she was deeply impressed with IE’s weekly explainers, which offered her great insight on varied topics.

So how much time should one dedicate to reading the newspaper?

Pratishtha Mamgain

Speaking from her own experience, Pratishtha says, “I would read the editorial every day, and apart from that, go through the explainers very thoroughly. I would also spend some time making notes for issues that were very new to me, and I felt that there was a need to get into deeper. I would dedicate a couple of hours each morning only to read the newspaper.”

Besides these two newspapers, Pratishtha also referred to the monthly magazine Yojana, published by the government of India and the Vision IAS booklets.

How does one decide what newspapers and magazines to read?

“During my college years, I spent a lot of time reading topper interviews and watching videos in which the toppers would share their strategy and tips. I saw that a majority of them had read these newspapers and referred to these magazines. I also made a consolidated list of books that were commonly used and referred to them while studying.”

How should one divide their time studying?

During her training period.

Pratishtha mentions that the first thing she did after waking up, was to read the information that needed to be memorised – “For example—details, like names, places, dates and facts.”

She would then move on to reading the newspaper and spend two odd hours doing that.

At around 10:30 am, she says that she would go on to studying either for the optional paper or general studies. At night before going to bed she would go through the Vision IAS booklet, she says.

When asked if she resorted to making notes while studying, Pratishtha says, “I would make notes only for topics that had content in several different places or something that needed to be memorised.”

“Mostly, I just stuck to studying books in totality and would revise it all countless number of times.”

Pratishtha – AIR 50

Like many others, Pratishtha too struggled with retaining information, initially. “I would forget things easily, but soon realised that this was something that could be overcome only with several revisions. I would set a target for myself in terms of how many times I needed to revise a particular topic or book and not stop until I achieved that.”

In conclusion, she says that aspirants must remember to follow these pointers a week or so before the examination:

  • Sleep well and stay calm. Given the level of stress, one goes through; it is essential to give your mind the rest that it needs.
  • Stick to what you have already covered. Do not attempt to absorb any new content or learn new topics a week before the examination. It is advisable to stick to what you have already covered and spend the time you have just revising it thoroughly.
  • Spend time going through mock tests and also analyse the mistakes that you commit in these. That will help you while you attempt the examination.
  • Find the pattern you follow—are you risk-averse or one who likes to take risks? Remember, both are not good; you need to find a middle path.

With these pointers, we wish you all the best for the examination!

Also Read: Interview to Essay Paper in Mains, IAS Officer Shares Strategy to Ace UPSC Exam

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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Bengalureans, Learn How to Grow Mushrooms in Just 6 Hours at This Unique Workshop

When Vinay Parade visited Kodaikanal in 2016, he knew that the next time he comes back, it would be to stay permanently.

Vinay was visiting Karuna Farm, and he loved the off-the-grid life of the community residing there. “Visiting Karuna farms, I fell in love with the forests. The locals had converted a potato farm into an agroforest. Here, the community was growing avocados, guavas, oranges, passion fruit, and cherries among others,” he says.

Learn how to grow oyster mushrooms in your backyard using easy techniques in less than six hours! Book your slot at this awesome workshop, here.

Participants at a mushroom growing workshop organised by Vinay

Four months after visiting the farm, he quit his job in Bengaluru and moved to Kodaikanal. Since his big move, he has engaged with the local community, learnt how to farm and even built a home for himself. “It took me almost two years to build my home here. I constructed it with natural materials like stone and mud,” he shares proudly.

The 38-year-old is an expert at growing mushrooms and has been conducting workshops at Kodaikanal and across the country.

Two years ago, Vinay along with his friend Nagesh Anand, started experimenting with growing mushrooms with very little investment.

“Mushrooms have been on this planet for over a billion years even before humans existed and we know so little about them. They are a keystone species to enable the continuation of life on this planet,” he says.

Moreover, he adds that mushrooms are nutritionally-rich food and an easy crop to grow. They need just five per cent water to grow as compared to other food crops. “Mushrooms do not need any light and constant watering to grow. Most importantly, we recycle agricultural waste from growing mushrooms to create a food source for other crops,” says Vinay.

Why mushrooms and what to expect at the workshop? Mushrooms grown using the technique that Vinay and his friend experimented with

The process that they use for teaching is simple for even school children to start growing mushrooms, asserts Vinay.

“We found a zero energy consumption method of sterilising that could be suitable and sustainable for growing mushrooms. We promote this through workshops where we encourage people to experiment on their own,” he says.

He then goes on to explain the process that he and his friend developed. They use a unique method where they make a mixture comprising of sterilised straw (residue of crops like rice) and mushroom spawn. The method they came up with uses limestone mixed with water to sterilise the straw.

This is more efficient than the conventional method that requires heating the straw at very high temperatures for long hours.

Vinay explains that since they use limestone in the process, the mushrooms they grow is also high in calcium content. After being successful in their endeavours, he realised that it is something that they can easily teach farmers who can earn a good price selling the mushrooms. A kilo of oyster mushroom can fetch anyone about Rs. 200 which is much higher than button mushrooms that fetch about Rs. 120 to 150 in the market.

Participants at the workshop holding the mixture used for growing mushrooms

Anyone willing to attend the workshop can expect an overview of the mushroom life cycle and grow oyster mushrooms at home in little space. He would also share ideas on how we can use mushrooms for land restoration and cleaning pollution from water bodies.

Life and activities at Kodaikanal

In a bid to help the farmers in Kodaikanal, Vinay along with his friend Ashwin Khasnis started a trust in June this year naming it ‘Prayogashala’. The objective of the trust is to promote reforestation projects, promote agroforestry and help farmers move away from chemical farming towards something more organic. Additionally, they are also working to make safety equipment more accessible to farmers as they are at health risks due to spraying pesticides and herbicides.

Vinay with a participant at a oyster mushroom workshop that was organised in January this year

He has also been teaching these farmers the basics of myco-permaculture to help them understand how growing mushrooms can be useful. They also make organic fertilisers available to farmers and also teach them how to prepare it. One example he states is that of ‘panchagavya’ that is prepared using cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd and ghee. This mixture helps in attaching good microbes to the soil, which helps in easier absorption of nutrients.

He has already started growing different fruit trees in his three-acre farm and has been selling this produce in cities like Madurai, Mumbai among others.

This is not the first time that Vinay has made such a big move. In the early 2000s, after pursuing a degree in Computer Science Engineering and working in the IT sector for a year in Mumbai, he quit that profession to pursue his passion for photography.

He has also worked with a lot of e-commerce startups setting up their studios and training photographers. He was also a visiting faculty for photography at NIFT, Mumbai.and other places too. A self-taught photographer, he continues to take up shooting assignments once in a while.

Learn how to grow oyster mushrooms in your backyard using easy techniques in less than six hours! Book your slot at this awesome workshop, here.

“Moving here, I started to learn more about a sustainable life with our natural world and learn life skills that we have forgotten as a collective in the cities. Now, I see growing our own food as the only effective act of rebellion against the monster of consumerism that threatens our human existence on this planet,” he signs off.

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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Mumbai Society Turns 4 Tonnes of Trash Into 400 Kgs of Manure, Creates Lush Garden!

More than four tonnes of wet waste recycled to produce 400 kg of manure in just one and a half years. Meet the residents of Goregaon-based Malhar Co-operative Housing Society (CHS) who are now enjoying the fruits of their labour. Quite literally.

The organic manure nourishes the society’s 350 sq ft vegetable and fruit garden!

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Managing waste at source

“Some of the residents had been segregating their waste for the past few years. But it wasn’t until 26 January 2018 that all the 72 households in the society mutually decided to formalise this process. We wanted to reduce the waste that we sent to the Municipal Corporation and ultimately the landfills,” says HB Singh, a resident who was instrumental in spearheading the initiative.

So, in collaboration with city-based waste management experts, RUR GreenLife, the residents installed a manually-operated aerobic bio-composter unit. Priced at Rs. 1.5 lakh, the unit consumes zero-electricity and uses two drums with a storage capacity of 200 kg each to facilitate the natural process of composting.

The society segregates and recycles more than 90 per cent waste.

RUR-GreenLife (Are You Reducing Reusing Recycling) experts worked with the society for one composting cycle to train the housekeeping staff on operating and maintaining the system.

RUR GreenLife team training society members

Explaining the working of the system, Singh adds, “Every household segregates its wet and dry waste. We generate about 30 kgs of wet waste per day. Of this wet waste about 15-20 kgs of wet waste is deposited in these drums alongside dry ingredients like leaves and sawdust.”

Then, after 18-20 days, the drums are rotated with the help of a gear. The processing of waste breaking down into manure takes four weeks.

Once the manure is ready, it is shovelled out, left to dry, cured and shaved.

Producing compost

The unit produces both liquid and solid manure. The society uses the liquid slurry to fertilise the vegetable-and fruit-garden that has different varieties of tomatoes, chillies, bitter gourd, and a few greens. The solid manure is packed in one kg packets and sold to the residents at Rs. 30 per kg.
The money from the sale of these packets is distributed to the housekeeping staff to keep the system running.

“The system has been running smoothly. We are delighted with the support shown by our housekeeping staff and RUR GreenLife to make it happen,” adds Singh.

Also Read: Earth Walls to Organic Food: Gujarat Couple Quits US Job to Create Food Forest!

Similarly, for dry waste, RUR GreenLife has asked the society to adopt the seven-bin system. In this system, the society segregates the dry waste in seven different bins like e-waste, paper, hard plastic, soft plastic, metal, glass and tetra pack cartons.

Seven bin system for dry waste

They sell the dry waste to recyclers or scrap dealers, and the income acquired is given to the housekeeping staff as an incentive.

The society also installed a bench made by recycling 10,000 Tetra Pak cartons under the ‘Go Green with Tetra Pak Recycling’ programme by RUR GreenLife and Tetra Pak India.

Benches made from recycled cartons

Having the system in place has helped the society mitigate 70 kgs of carbon dioxide usually generated every time the waste is taken from the collection point to the landfills.

Speaking to TBI, Monsha Narke, Founder, CEO, RUR GreenLife, says, “With over 70+ community composting projects like Malhar society, we are successfully recycling over 400 tonnes of biowaste annually into nutrient-rich organic compost to increase green cover in urban areas. It’s been a wonderful year and a half with Malhar and its green champions. It’s gratifying to see seasonal veggies and medicinal plants grown in the heart of the city using the compost generated from kitchen waste. We look forward to spread the green practices and replicate the Malhar model in many more communities.”

In a final message to the residents of other apartments and complexes, Singh says, “If we want to achieve the Swachh Bharat goal, each of us needs to contribute and start taking the lead in our societies. And managing our waste at source could be the starting point.”

All image credits: RUR GreenLife

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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Cake Needs No Occasion: 5 Easy Vegan Recipes to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth Guilt-Free

“Once you realise you don’t need a special occasion to eat cake, the second part of your life begins.” This quote changed my life. For, the moment I read it, I stopped waiting for birthdays or anniversaries to satiate my cravings for the sinful concoction. Cakes are love!

Why should you settle for plain desserts? Spread tasty and organic nut butters on them and scale up their deliciousness! Check out our ‘spread’ here.

Well, cakes from a bakery are lovely, but why not give baking a chance? That way, I can make my cake and eat it too! Here I have five super easy and yummy recipes for you to try out the next time you are in the mood for some cake. And all of them are vegan! Just whip up some vegan ‘love’ in your kitchen!

Vegan Vanilla cake: Representative image. Source: M@sh/ Flickr.

Let’s start with the universally-loved vanilla. Some may mistake its flavour for being too plain, but the cake is anything but ‘vanilla’ if you get my drift. Let’s get started.


For the cake:

220 gm of all-purpose flour
240 ml of Soy milk
200 gm sugar of your choice
80 ml vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

For the vanilla frosting:

450 gm powdered sugar of your choice
4 tablespoon soy milk
3 tablespoon vegan butter
2 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Simultaneously, preheat the oven to 180° C.
  • Once you are satisfied done, add the milk, vanilla extract, oil and vinegar and whisk it all together. A hand-whisk works perfectly.
  • Grease two cake tins (about 7 inches each) with coconut or vegetable oil. If you have them, cut parchment papers into circles to fit the bottom of the pans. If not, ensure that the tin bottoms are greased well.
  • Divide the batter between the two tins and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Do a stick test. Once baked evenly, take out the cakes and let them cool.

In the meantime, let’s begin with the frosting.

Directions for frosting:

  • Mix the powdered sugar, butter, vanilla extract and half of the milk in a mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, whisk it well. Keep adding the milk as you whisk. Stop when the mixture is smooth and creamy.
  • Once your cake has cooled down completely, spread the frosting on one layer. Place the second layer on top of this and spread the frosting on the top and the sides.
  • Decorate with fresh fruit, chocolate, cherries or not. Voila! Your cake is ready to be cut and eaten!
Vegan Apple Cake

Easy to make and delicious to the taste, this apple cake is the perfect vegan dessert. Here’s the recipe.

Vegan Chocolate Cake Representative image. Source: ijchc/ Pixabay.

Who doesn’t love chocolate? The only thing better than chocolate is a chocolate cake. And that’s all the introduction this magnificent cake needs.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 and ½ cups hot water
1 cup sugar of your choice
¾ cups of cocoa powder
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt


  • Start by preheating the oven at 180°C and greasing an 8-inch pan with vegetable oil (and a parchment paper at the bottom if you have it). At the same time, mix the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt.
  • In another bowl, mix well the hot water, sugar, vegetable oil and vinegar.
  • Start adding the dry mixture in the wet mix. Make sure that you mix both til there are no lumps left. Do not over mix.
  • Once you get a uniform consistency, pour the batter in the cake tin and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Do a stick test and if it not done, then pop it in the oven for another 10 minutes.

When your cake is ready, spread dark chocolate or frosting over it. You can also try our range of flavoured butter to spread over the delicious cake (check for the vegan tag).

Vegan Carrot Cake Representative image only. Source: NeedPix.

What’s up, doc? Ready for some carrot cake?


300 gm carrots, grated
300 ml of milk of your choice
375 gm all-purpose flour
175 gm sugar of your choice
125 ml of vegetable oil
70 gm walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Vegan cream cheese frosting
½ teaspoon salt


  • Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease two 8 inches round cake tins. Mix the oil, sugar and vanilla and start whisking. When the sugar dissolves, add in the milk too.
  • In the same bowl, sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt.
  • When mixed well, add in the walnuts and the carrots too.
  • Once you get a perfect consistency, divide the batter evenly between the two tins.
  • Pop them in the oven and wait for 25 minutes (you already know the rule of the stick-test).
  • Take out the cake and let it cool.
  • Apply a layer of frosting on one of the cakes, place the second layer on top of it and spread frosting on the top layer too.

You can decorate the cake with walnuts (Here’s where you can purchase them organic). A trail mix also complements the cake just as well. Purchase the authentically organic kind, here.

Vegan Red Velvet Cake Representative image only. Source: Eden, Janine and Jim/ Flickr.

Rich, flavourful and perfect for a post-dinner dessert, the red velvet cake has taken connoisseurs by storm. And now you can bake it in an eggless, vegan fashion right at your home! Here’s how:


For the cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cup sugar of your choice
½ cup vegan butter (room temperature)
½ cup of vegetable oil
½ cup applesauce
4 tablespoons of organic cocoa powder
2-3 tablespoons of vegan red dye (or beetroot powder which you can get here)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt

For vegan buttermilk:

1 ¼ cups unsweetened milk of your choice
2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar

For the frosting, refer to the vanilla cake recipe.


Vegan Buttermilk: Mix the milk and vinegar. Set aside to let it curdle.


  • Start by preheating the oven at 180°C and greasing two 8-inch pans with vegetable oil (and parchment papers at the bottom if you have it). At the same time, mix the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt.
  • In another bowl, whisk the butter and sugar. When it becomes smooth, mix the vegetable oil, applesauce, vanilla and white vinegar. Mix it well, so it has no lumps. Now add the beetroot powder (or red dye).
  • If you are using an electric mixer, keep the speed on low and add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk (take turns to add them to avoid lumps. Don’t add the dry mix and the buttermilk all at once.
  • When the mixture is smooth and even, your batter is done. Pour the batter in equal quantities in the two pans and put them in the oven.
  • Let it bake for 35-40 minutes. If the stick test shows your cake is done, let it cool.

Spread the frosting evenly on one of the layers, add the second layer and repeat. Garnish, decorate and serve!

Recipe sources:

Vanilla Cake: Loving It Vegan.

Apple Cake: Manjula’s Kitchen/ YouTube.

Chocolate Cake: Bake With Shivesh.

Carrot Cake: Veggie Desserts.

Red Velvet Cake: Nora Cooks.

You may also like: A Healthy Beginning: 6 Easy & Quick Millet Recipes to Power up Your Breakfast

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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Rainwater Harvesting Helps Bengaluru School Save 50 Lakh Litres of Water/Year!

India’s demand for water is also expected to be twice that of the supply by 2030. 

While the government is taking measures to overcome the water crisis, hundreds of citizens and communities across the country are doing their bit by practising Rain Water Harvesting (RWH). 

This simple act of collecting and using rainwater is an ancient practice, and yet it has never been more relevant than it is today.

Be a part of the community that saves every drop of water. Check out water-saving and cost-effective devices that you can install at home here. 

RWH can go a long way to help mitigate the effects of depleting groundwater levels and fluctuating climate conditions. It can help recharge the water table, reduce urban flooding and finally, ensure water availability in water-scarce zones. 

The Trio World Academy, a school in Bengaluru, has joined the bandwagon and introduced several initiatives which aim to influence its students to conserve rainwater, recharge groundwater tables and educate students about the judiciously using the precious resource.

In 2017, it installed two types of RWH structures—roof-based and land-based. Water saved on the rooftop fulfils the water needs for gardening and water captured on the ground recharges the groundwater tables.

There are a total of 12 pits in the premises, each with a holding capacity of 10,000 litres. 

We strongly believe in rainwater harvesting, as schools have a vast catchment area consisting of not only the rooftop but also the huge playground that can collect the runoff water. The RWH system not only helps in water augmentation in terms of groundwater recharge or storage but also acts as a flood control measure. It is an initiative to teach the students about rainwater conservation and in a small way giving it back to nature, says Naveen KM, the Managing Director of the school, to The Better India (TBI). 

To further champion the water-saving cause, the school authorities have installed water aerators on 50 taps meant for handwashing.

As per Naveen, each aerator reduces the wastage of water by 60 per cent by controlling the water flow. 

“More often than not, children tend to leave the tap open while applying soaps and even forget to turn off the faucet properly, and this leads to nearly hundreds of litres of water getting wasted every month. These aerators are proving to be an effective water-saving tool for the school,” he adds. 

Another unique idea was to get the students to empty the leftover water from their bottles at the end of the day.

We have kept big containers in and around the school campus. During dispersion time, we have requested parents and children to empty the water bottle in big containers or storage wells kept in the green lawn. This helps the school save 50 litres of water daily which is used for gardening purposes, says Naveen. 

The school authorities claim that these measures have saved the school approximately 50 lakh litres of water in the last two years. 

These initiatives on saving water and using recycled water in schools also help in learning about the harmful effects of microbeads in our water systems and how to care for and protect our natural waterways. Children are not only the future of our country but also a great source of strength when we want to mobilise masses, says Vinod Singh, the principal of Trio World Academy.

Taking these efforts as an inspiration, many school students are implementing water-saving techniques in their respective homes.

Speaking to The New Indian Express, a student of Class 5 said, “Everyone is doing their bit to save water, and these initiatives help us in applying the same methods at our homes too. The generation ahead needs to be taught about environmental sustainability and water conservation.”

If schools across India follow similar practices, the young generation could certainly avert a serious water crisis. 

Image Credits: Bishwajeet Bhattacharya

Also Read: Delhi School Bans Disposable Plastic, Harvests Sun & Rain To Save Rs 10 Lakh/Year!

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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Don’t Throw Those Peels: 5 Fruit Skins That Will Leave Your Skin Glowing!

Fruits are my absolute favourite. Whether grabbing a banana when I’ve to rush to office, an orange right before a work-out or a full-blown fruit salad as dessert! Fruits are the food of the Gods, each bite both delicious and healthy!

Along with being a tasty snack, these colourful powerhouses of nutrition have other talents too. You can DIY the pulp and peel out of them! You can use them to bring a sparkle to your face and a shine to your house too! Face packs, makeup, soaps, floor cleaners to what not, you need but pull up your sleeves and take some time out of weekends to extract every bit of fruity glory out of them.

Hey, now that you are here, can we interest you in a range of organic face packs, scrubs and such beauty products? Much like the fruit peel packs, these are chemical-free and can add to the glow of your skin naturally! Check out the products here.

The rookie mistake we all are guilty of is throwing away the skins of fruits like bananas, watermelon and oranges. Ladies, let’s not do that from now on. Fruit peels are as good (if not better) as any face mask that you will purchase from the market. The one difference is, of course, you won’t have to spend as much. That news is enough to put a glow on my face!


Here is a DIY list of all the good things you can do with fruit peels:

Orange: Source: NeedPix.

Perhaps the only use I knew for orange peels was to squeeze them near my brother’s eyes. Hey, I was a kid, how else was I supposed to bond with moi brother? But now that both of us have grown up and our spectacles act as shields so instead, I use the peels to make cleaning liquids (Here’s how). And also face masks.

Depending upon your skin type and needs, you can make an orange-turmeric face pack or an orange-aloe vera one. Sun-dried peels can be easily ground into a fine powder. If you are opting for turmeric, take a tablespoon of the powdered orange peels, add two pinches of turmeric in it and mix it with rose water (buy it organic, here) until it forms a paste. Apply the paste on your skin, let it work its wonders for 15 minutes before washing your face with cool water. If you are going with aloe vera, replace the turmeric and rose water with aloe gel. The rest of the procedure is the same.

(Psst . . . If applying a face mask is too much of a hassle for you, simply rub the orange powder on your skin. Massage your face in a circular motion for about five minutes and wash it off. Exfoliatus totalus that greasy, grimy layer off that gorgeous skin!)

Papaya: Source: Flickr.

The papa-ya of all fruit face masks, this vitamin-packed fruit cleans up acne and moisturises dry skin! Here’s how:

Papaya-honey face mask for dry skin:

You will need ½ cup of ripe papaya (the residue after you are done eating works fine as well), 2 teaspoons of whole milk and 1 tablespoon honey (Buy it organic, here.)

Mash the papaya and add milk and honey to it. Mix it until it becomes a fine paste. Apply on your skin, let it dry for 15 minutes and wash it off with cool water. Easy said and easy done!

If you wish to target your pimples with papaya, you will need ½ cup of papaya mash, 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Follow the above procedure of mixing all the ingredients well. Apply an even layer of the pack on your face, wait for 15 minutes and wash it off. Repeat this about twice a week to see sustainable results.

Bananas: Source: manfredrichter/ Pixabay.

It’s time to go bananas (I couldn’t resist) over the versatile banana peels! For one, the skin, rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants is a great soother of rashes and mosquito bites. But even more so, a fresh banana peel is great to treat acne and clean out the dirt in your skin.

It is as simple as it gets. Take a fresh banana peel, and gently rub the inner layer on your face. The peel will soon start turning brown and will leave a slimy residue on your skin. When that happens, it is your cue to stop. Leave it on your skin until it dries and then wash it away with cool water. To treat acne, follow the same procedure but focus only on the spots and do it daily.

Mango: Representative image only. Source: PxHere.

How can we forget the king of fruits? The next time you relish a mango, keep the peels. Dry and powder them. Mix this with wheat flour and a little bit of water to make a paste, rub it gently on your face before washing it with cool water. This will cleanse your skin. For a targeted anti-acne fight, take small pieces of mango peel and apply on the spots as a mask. Let it rest for a while before washing it off. Repeat twice a week to see optimum results.

Watermelon: Representative image. Source: Pixabay.

A hot favourite in summers, watermelons are amazing hydrants. Their high water content and cooling nature make watermelons the best go-to snacks for summers.

Why not quench your skin’s thirst with watermelon skin? After gobbling down your watermelon you are left with nothing but the skin, so why not turn it into a hydrating face pack. It works best if just a hint of the pink flesh remains on the white insides of the rind. Chill the rind for about 10 minutes. Slice it into paper-thin pieces. Place these cold strips on your face and relax for about 15 minutes. Rinse off with cool water. What an easy and a-peeling hack, right?

(Do a skin patch test for allergies for the ingredients mentioned)

You may also like: Dandruff to Pests: Turmeric Is the Best Desi Solution for These 8 Problems!

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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Saving Every Drop: 6 Easy & Smart Ways to Conserve Water in Your Bathroom!

All those who turn on the showerhead and skitter out of the cold water’s way while waiting for the hot water, raise your hands. Great. Welcome to the club I was the reigning queen of until a couple of weeks ago.

Did you know that an average showerhead uses around 10 litres of water per minute? Yes, and multiply that by the amount of time you spend belting out the latest rendition of Cardi B with the shampoo bottle for a mic. What we forget at times is that one day, we will be left standing with soap in our eyes and the proverbial egg on the face while the taps run dry.

Since we have you here for water conservation, why not try going chemical-free in your beauty regime? Here’s our range of organic and handmade skincare products, face packs and scrubs.

The force is so strong with my shower that it could put a Jedi to shame. We have a solar water heater, and during monsoons, it takes about 10 minutes to heat the water. So a few weeks ago, while waiting for the hot water to arrive, I started collecting the water that would otherwise have gone down the drain. I ended up with three buckets full of water!


This is how much water one wastes during showers in a week. Enough water to use in the kitchen for three days for a family of four. Enough to water a garden of about 50 plants. Enough water to soak, rinse and wash the utensils left after a full meal by four people.

But this cannot be a ‘The-Better-India-article if it does not give suggestions to save the environment, right?

Source: Gabriel Rocha/ Flickr.
  • Let’s begin with showers. And take the bucket bath challenge! Yes, one should start taking more bucket baths than showers to save water. A 10-minute shower consumes nearly 100 litres of water. A simple showerhead adapter will save 60 per cent of this amount without compromising on the flow of the water. All you have to do is fix it on the shower pipe and forget about it! (Except when you want to congratulate yourself on being a water-warrior!) You don’t have to go hunting for the adapters. We got you. Click on this link to see which model suits your needs the best.
Source: TBI.
  • While you are at it, why just stop at a showerhead? Install such adapters in your basin too. Everyday activities like brushing teeth, washing your face or hands waste a lot of water. The faucets save litres of water without you having to take any efforts every day. Follow this link to get your water saving adapters.
  • A group of school students amazed me with a simple solution they implemented in their toilets. While a normal large flush consumes about 10 litres of water, in reality, it needs only a small portion of it. Since the students could not re-engineer the flush system, they placed a water bottle in the flush tank to restrict the amount of water-filled. If you have a flush tank that can be opened, why not try this idea to save water? And if you are not up for an experiment, try this tested water-saving toilet bank instead.
Source: Online Water Filters.
  • Don’t do your laundry frequently, especially if you use a washing machine. Collect enough clothes in your laundry bag to fill the machine before starting the machine. Not only will this save a lot of water but also your efforts in washing clothes. You can go a step ahead and replace your chemical detergents with organic ones. These zero-waste powders will reduce your micro-plastic output and leave your clothes soft and fragrant!
  • If you get white residues of calcium or magnesium on your bathroom tile or buckets, washing them with water might not be the solution. This residue is a result of the hard water in your tank and cleaning it is only a temporary solution. What we suggest is to nip the problem in the bud. Soften your hard water with this filter and notice the change in your water quality within weeks! (Psst… an added benefit is that the soft water will help your skin and hair too!)

Don’t let your bathroom routines exhaust the environment. Water conservation is an important initiative we all must actively adopt in these trying times. If you save about 40 litres of water every time you shower, can you calculate how much water you save in a year? The number itself should motivate you to take proactive steps towards dedicated water conservation efforts!

May the Force Be With You!

You may also like: Hair Care to Flowers: 7 Ways to Reuse Kitchen Water in Beauty, Gardening Regimes

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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