Interested small and marginal farmers, who associate themselves very closely with Sevashram, are being assisted under the Internal Control System (ICS) to obtain organic certification from INDOCERT, the internationally accredited certifying agency for the EUREPGAP standard. The farmers are convinced that, in case they seek organic certification as individual farmers, the procedures and processes they have to go through would cost them almost ten times of the costs they have to incur if they do it through Sevashram. Hence, they enthusiastically join in ICS being introduced by Sevashram
Sevashram has developed over 15 organic products and is marketing them under the brand names of Kerasyam, Aiswarya, Jaiwa Dhannya, Kera Vimal, Kera Veeryam, Shree Kesh and Kera Biofer.
Kerasyam is the coconut oil which is 100 per cent free from carbon and sulphur, extracted from dryer dried copra and certified by the Quality Testing Laboratory of the Coconut Development Board of the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, as conforming to the norms prescribed for the best grade pure coconut oil by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The products under the brand name of Aiswarya are three bath soaps ___ Chandan (sandal wood extract), Sugandh (lemon extract) and Shalini (tulasi extract).
Jaiwa Dhannya is the general brand under which come several items, such as a balanced diet mix, Ojasyam (made of germinated, dried, roasted and pulverised wheat, ragi, green gram and Bengal gram, and flavoured with natural vanilla essence), Jully (a five spice medicinal drink powder, made of roasted and powdered cumin, fenugreek, coriander, dried ginger and cardamom), Madhu Thani (pure bee procured and home processed honey), and several coconut, cocoa, milk and jackfruit based convenient food and confectionery items. Santhwana (a traditional herbal oil, ideal for cuts, bruises, aches, pains, swellings etc.) and Ashwas (a pack of traditional herbal tablets, meant to relieve internal aches) are the other products under Jaiwa Dhannya.
Other organic products of Sevashram include Kera Vimal (under which come washing bar soap, detergent cake and detergent powder), Kera Veeryam (coconut vinegar) and Shree Kesh (herbal hair tonic). The coir pith based bio manure, produced by Sevarshram using the technology developed by the Central Coir Research Institute (CCRI), is called Kera Biofer.
Sevashram has its own outlets for marketing its organic products. It has set up a ‘Swasraya Food Park’ and developed a network of shops. The swasraya food park of Sevashram is located at the heart of the town of Angamaly. The shop has three sections __- jaiwa (natural food stall), dhannya (organic food store) and jaiwa dhanya (fresh food parlour). Besides the branded products of Sevashram, areca spathe plates and paper carry bags, made by the women members of the swadhyaya sangams operating under Sevashram’s auspices, are also distributed from the food park. Sevashram has also developed a network of shops for the sale of its organic products with the direct and active involvement of the local brand ambassadors.
Sevashram is developing a marketing network known as jaiwa sahodaryam. Under the project informal people’s consumer cooperatives are formed. The objective is to ensure availability of quality goods of everyday needs at reasonable prices. Besides fostering love and fraternity among the share-holders, the jaiwa sahodaryams will help control the prices of items of staple food, health–care and sanitation. A jaiwa sahodaryam has a maximum of 150 members and every member has a share of Rs.100 in it. Membership is open to all without any distinction on the basis of caste, creed, sex or political affiliation.
General management of all the activities of Sevashram is taken care of by the Executive Committee of Sevashram. In order to facilitate the activities of Sevashram in a decentralised and participatory manner, the operational area of Sevashram is, for the present, divided into two provinces. Each province, in turn, is divided into four zones. Each zone is further divided into up to eight regions, and each region, up to five clusters (each comprising of five swadhyaya sangams on an average).
There are persons at each level (province, zone, region and cluster), entrusted with different responsibilities in carrying out the various activities of the sangams. These persons, together with the office staff and office bearers of Sevashram, gather together at Sevashram on the fourth Monday of every month to evaluate that month's activities and plan for those of the next month. All those related to Sevashram’s entire gamut of activities participate in this meeting. Similarly, regular monthly evaluation and planning sessions are held at the regional level in the first week of every month. Likewise, persons at the cluster level come together on a weekly basis. Thus, every effort is made to maintain the developmental process under Sevashram decentralised and participatory.
As the rural community in the operational area of Svashram has benefited from the developmental initiative of the organisation, there has been increasing recognition of its activities as innovative and laudable. The success stories of the programmes of Sevashram have attracted the attention of media and interested parties.
The Hindu, the English daily has been regularly carrying reports on Sevashram and its activities. In one of such reports Ramabhadran Pillai made the following observation: “Innovative products made by the ashramites are in high demand…The net effect of the activities of the ashram is of long-term impact on the social fabric. The low income groups get a better perspective of the life around them and get the confidence to deal with different situations and continue their effort to improve their lot…. The whole operation is structured in such a way that there is always a helping hand at every stage” (The Hindu, 25 September 2001).
Sevashram finds a place in the Golden Jubilee Souvenir of the Papal Seminary, Pune, published in 2006 with the title, Unto New Horizons. Fr.Lionel Mascarenhas SJ, in his article “Golden Moments” in the souvenir says: “It is a special form of personal development and community building in the social, economic and moral (spiritual) spheres. It aims not only at integral development of the person, but also at making him/her eventually a partner in this venture.”
The report of a case study of Sevashram, undertaken by the Bangalore-based Centre for Innovation in Voluntary Action in 1999, has made the following observation in the report entitled Life Goes On. “This is a dedicated group that has a clear distinct vision on sustainable living practices. ….All the programmes are economically sound in that they are self-supporting within their production-consumption cycles. None depends on external support. There is total transparency regarding their vision; the values they promote and live by; and the interventions/programmes planned and executed with their support…. The key is quality services at competitive costs, given the lifestyle of the group. Since their consumption levels are very low, they are able to have a surplus even from this to further service for the needy.”
The NABARD undertook an evaluation of Sevashram in 1999 in order to assess its role as a self-help promotion organisation. A system of scoring was used in this evaluation. In the test results, published by NABARD in its Report on the Exploratory Study of Voluntary Agencies, Sevashram scored 193 out of the maximum of 200 marks.
Sevashram won the “Father Jose Alex Award for Excellence in Social Work” in 2003. The award was offered by the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, Kalamassery, Kochi, Kerala. The citation presented to Sevashram along with the award reads: “It appreciates the much needed stress given by Sevashram in harmonizing the elements of development and spirituality for attaining the national ideals of Grama Swaraj and Kshema Rashtra. It has successfully demonstrated through its Swadhyaya Sanghams that development is possible without sacrificing fundamental human values and relying on internal recources and self-help”.
Sevashram does not pretend to be capable of pulling the shutters on the floodgates of consumerism opened wide by the force of economic liberalization. However, without trying to curse the darknesss all around, Sevashram is aspiring for lighting a lamp, knowing fully well that all it may be able to do will only be a tiny fragment of the magnificent enterprise which is God’s work. It may be incomplete, but it shall be an opening for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest!