Most people often think of entrepreneurship as a male domain but nothing can be further from the truth. Evidence of this I found in a small piece of article about a Balti woman from Kargil, Ladakh, who showed that extra curiosity and innovative spark that lay foundations of a future successful entrepreneur.
As it is the region of Ladakh is geographically, a remote mountainous region that remains virtually cut off from rest of India during intense winter months. Heavy snow carpets all valleys of Ladakh, making life very challenging. And one of the most difficult things to find during winter months is vegetables. This has been a problem for most mountainous regions of India, where availability of vegetables become scarce due to lack of cultivable land as well as months of snow that covers whatever little cultivable land that is available.
In valleys of Ladakh, most of human habitation is located around numerous rivers that criss-cross barren and semi-desert valleys. Apart from river Indus, there are many tributaries of the river that feeds small patches of land available around river streams. Kargil town is also such urban agglomeration, located on both sides of Suru river, one of the tributaries of river Indus.
Under such difficult geographical and climatic conditions, it becomes very challenging to cultivate crops and extract maximum output from limited supply of land. And this is where Achay (Sister) Fatima Banoo’s entrepreneurial skills came in handy. Achay Fatima was an ordinary housewife with an extraordinary desire to learn about new things including latest agricultural techniques for improving crop production. It was this curiosity that brought Achay Fatima to a government established “self help” group that thought latest agricultural techniques for optimum utilisation of land. The emphasis was on various aspects of agricultural technology, ranging from selection of right seeds, maintaining fertility of soil for recurrent cultivation, environmentally friendly way of controlling pests etc.
Achay Fatima, who was till now only growing vegetables for the consumption of her own family, took the initiative to learn and teach herself about all the techniques of improving crop production. Her interest and hard work bore fruits both literally and metaphorically, when she saw an exponential increase in the production of vegetables from her kitchen garden. She was encouraged to grow vegetables on a slightly bigger scale and soon she was producing much more than for her own private consumption. This opened up an opportunity for her to explore the option of selling extra produce to local market, where there was an immense demand for fresh vegetables.
Most of the agricultural land available in Kargil is under the cultivation of food crops like wheat and barley and therefore vegetables are usually imported from Srinagar in Kashmir valley. Those vegetables are expensive and at the same time not very fresh. Achay Fatima’s vegetables were a welcome change from the existing system. Her kitchen garden produce was fresh and readily available.
This urge to learn and tap into advanced scientific knowledge helped Achay Fatima to be a successful entrepreneur and earn money that improved her family’s economic situation. And now she is also teaching other local farmers about the advanced agricultural technology to increase production from scarce agricultural land available.
Achay Fatima has shown that one does not need MBA degree to be a successful entrepreneur. All that one need is original thinking, curiosity to learn new things, hard work and a desire to do something other than the routine.
The author is a graduate of Harvard, Cambridge and Columbia University with interest in Balti culture and Central Asia region.