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By Puja Bhattacharjee
After completing his graduate studies, Chandra Prakash Shukla, the native of Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh, was clueless about his future. Most family members were into service.
“Somebody was a gazette officer, some relatives worked at the post office and some family members were employed in a clerical job,” Chandra Prakash told Slow Bazaar. “I wasn’t good in studies and could not qualify in competitive exams,” he added.
Disillusioned, Chandra Prakash opened a small stationery shop to earn a living and life went on; till that fateful journey to Prayagraj (Allahabad) thirty years ago which changed the course of his life and made him embark on a new journey – an ‘amla’ businessman.
Narrating what happened thirty years ago, Chandra Prakash said he met Professor RP Shukla, the then dean of the Centre of Food Technology at the University of Allahabad. During their conversation, the professor pointed out that a lot of amla (Indian gooseberry) was produced in the Pratapgarh district and the majority of the produce was exported out to other parts of the country.
Amla is cultivated in Pratapgarh, Rae Bareli, Sultanpur, and Jaunpur districts in Uttar Pradesh.
However, Pratapgarh has the highest yield. According to official sources, the district grows 800,000 quintals of amla every year which is a whopping 80 per cent of the state’s total amla production.
“Professor Shukla suggested that I do something involving amla and even offered to help me,” Chandra Prakash recalled. With the professor’s help, Chandra Prakash thoroughly researched the fruit and possible food items that can be manufactured from it. Meanwhile, his nephew obtained a diploma in food technology under the professor’s guidance.
Once the team was in place, Chandra Prakash applied for and obtained a loan of Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) from Khadi Gramodyog to build his factory.
That was in 1993, twenty eight years ago. Now Pushpanjali, the brand he created, manufactures jams, laddoo, chutney, barfi, juice, achar (pickle), and more, all made from amla, which is loaded with nutrients and the richest source of Vitamin C. Amla is known to strengthen the immune system and helps fight diseases.
Chandra Prakash credits Professor RP Shukla for his success and the range of innovative products Pushpanjali manufactures. “He was with me every step of the way. If I faced any difficulty, I took his advice,” he said. Professor Shukla acted as a consultant for Pushpanjali. “He shared his knowledge of what preservatives to use and what is the best way to combine different ingredients,” the businessman added.
Chandra Prakash’s journey wasn’t without its fair share of challenges. Initially, his wife was not convinced. Nobody from the family had ventured into business before. “Most people tried to discourage me from doing ‘a feminine job’ of making jams and pickles,” he said. But Chandra Prakash remained resolute, and his father supported him.
“My father was into social service,” he told Slow Bazaar. “He used to say –‘do something that will benefit you as well as others. The [stationery] shop will only benefit you, but a production unit will benefit the local community’ – and that gave me strength.”
In 2019, Chandra Prakash took another loan of Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2.5 million) under the One District One Product scheme and bought bigger machines. He now owns two factories which employ around 60 people. His son helps him run the business.
“My son is involved in the marketing of Pushpanjali products. We have removed all middlemen and take our products directly to the customers,” he said. The amla products are sold in Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, and Delhi.
The factories employ a lot of women, informed the factory owner. “Men operate the machine and women do the manual work like mixing products.” The amlas are purchased from the farmers as well as local wholesale markets. In a month, his factories can process as much as 5-10 tons of amla depending on the demand.
Chandra Prakash’s story has inspired others in the region to start their own business. He has offered his guidance and shared his knowledge with them. A total of 40 big and small factories now operate in the area, he said.
Hundreds of processing units make pickles, marmalade, candy, etc. at Pratapgarh at present. The amla products from this region are sold across the country through fairs and exhibitions.
There has been a heavy demand for amla products during the pandemic due to the berries' immunity-boosting properties. The Indian gooseberry is rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E antioxidants, calcium, and iron. It helps in diabetes control, improves eye health, digestion, memory, and brain health.
However, COVID-19 and the lockdown had adversely impacted the sales. Pushpanjali, which sets up stalls across the country to sell their products , also suffered a setback. But now, the situation is improving.
Chandra Prakash said that amla products are mostly consumed by people over the age of 40 for their health benefits and not for its taste. Pushpanjali has been making tangy amla candies to market the berry to the younger generation. The brand is also expanding its operations and will soon manufacture different kinds of masalas used in traditional Indian cooking.