SELCO’s solar-powered refrigerators help marginalized women grow their businesses

Amalorpavam, Mariya and Vasantha are women entrepreneurs from marginalized communities, who sell fish in the streets of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. While Mariya and Amalorpavam procure the fish at the local wholesale markets, Vasantha procures her fish from Thoothukudi, around 150km from Madurai, where her relatives go fishing. 

Their major overhead expense was ice, which is sold at around Rs 50 per kg, used to preserve the fish. Ice, however, is a recurring expense and it can preserve fish only for a day or two. The regular handling of the ice with bare hands was also becoming a health hazard. 

The nationwide lockdown induced by COVID-19 had brought all economic activities to a standstill for months. Like most micro-business owners in the country, the three women from Madurai had also lost their main source of livelihood.

Even after the lockdown was lifted, business was slow and their income had dropped drastically from pre-pandemic levels. In August 2020, #COVIDActionCollab partner SELCO Foundation approached community-based organization Sri Lakshmi Pengal Munnetra Sangam (SLPMS), which is also a CAC partner, with an offer to provide 3 solar powered refrigerators. The three women, who are part of the different self help groups in SLPMS, were picked by the organization as beneficiaries of SELCO’s refrigerators. 

The 150-litre solar powered refrigerator knocked off the recurring expense of procuring ice and now each of the women entrepreneurs who can make their business more efficient and profitable. With the increased capacity for longer storage, they can procure larger quantities of fish at a time, especially when prices are low. Fish can be stored in refrigerators for upto a week. “Earlier I had to buy ice everyday to sell our fish, but since we got the refrigerator I’m able to cut that cost and it also helps me store my fish for longer,” said Amalorpavam. 

One of the women – Mariya – has diversified her income sources with the help of the refrigerator. She’s now able to store milk, curd, ice cream and dairy products and sell them in her local community. 

Amalorpavam, Mariya and Vasantha have seen their incomes increase between Rs. 5000 and Rs. 8000 per month since they were provided the refrigerators. 

 

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