When Sanna Masood (pictured left) returned to Kashmir after working for over a decade in New Delhi as a consultant for multinational companies such as Fabindia, she decided to give her career another turn. She founded Sustainable Eco Enterprise Development Solutions (SEEDS) to help small-scale women farmers earn an income from their activities in the fields.
SEEDS started with training a few women. Today this Women on Wings partner is working with hundreds of women engaged in small-scale agricultural activities in rural Kashmir.
Sustainable and ethical agriculture
Having established three centers throughout Kashmir, SEEDS imparts agricultural training and provides quality seeds to women farmers, and also buys back the women’s products at market rates. Besides training the women in various agricultural techniques, SEEDS strongly advocates organic farming.
“Our stress is on sustainable agriculture. That is possible through organic farming. Our main focus is to train these farmers in producing manure and growing the food without using chemicals and fertilizers,” says Sanna.
SEEDS also has a reputation for cultivating a variety of ethnic and heritage vegetables and herbs in collaboration with local farmers. Buoyed by the response of the local female farmers, SEEDS has recently launched Vestaun, a brand name for its products.
Vestaun, which means feminine friendship, offers dried fruits, pickles, and jams with the latest editions of lavender, walnut kernel, and rose oil.
“Pickled, processed, and packaged properly, these products showcase Kashmir’s heritage,” adds Sanna.
Vestaun offers an ample platform to process and market the produce. The farmers are faced with a common challenge in remote areas: a lot of the produce does not reach the market in time, so the shelf life needs to be increased. This can effectively be done through proper processing and packaging.
Focus on women farmers
As the organization gradually expands, more people are willing to work for SEEDS and women are at the forefront. For Sanna, it is important to focus on women:
“Being a woman myself I want to inculcate the feeling of dignity in women.”
It is the mission of SEEDS that every valuable contribution of women particularly in the field of agriculture counts and that they get their due profit share for their efforts.
SEEDS and Women on Wings started collaborating in January 2021, a year partly dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, a lot of the mentoring and workshops were initially done online only.
In early February 2023, Judith Heijnen, a Women on Wings marketing expert, traveled to Srinagar to work with the SEEDS team:
“It was already very inspiring to work with Sanna and her team in our weekly online sessions developing the Vestaun brand. But nothing beats a physical workshop.
Before we deep-dived into the marketing strategy of Vestaun, Sanna and I met some of the rural women engaged with SEEDS. It really helped to get a closer understanding of how Vestaun products are being processed and how women benefit from earning an income. We can definitely incorporate this in the marketing strategy of the brand.
I feel humbled and motivated after facilitating a workshop in person with the team in Kashmir. I left with hope and optimism, and a full belief in the power of women’s empowerment. I cannot wait to see Vestaun shine on social media and have successful sales. Ultimately, we work towards that one goal which is to engage more women farmers in Kashmir.”
Picture from left to right: Sanna, Judith, Rafiq (Operations & Sales manager)
Inspiration taken from an article in the Valley Observer of October 21, 2022, plus Women on Wings’ workshop in February 2023.