Grit and Determination: Rita Devi’s Journey from Homemaker to Oorja's Decentralised Cold Storage Operator

September 2021

Rita Devi always aspired to have a better life for the family and quality education for her children. But, before her association with Oorja, Rita Devi, who hails from Chhegan Newra, Bihar, was a full-time homemaker and her husband Bittu Das, a truck driver working in Assam, was the sole bread earner in the family. Bittu's meagre income meant that Rita Devi and her family of 7 could barely make ends meet. When Oorja piloted “Oonnayan – Cooling-as-a-Service'' in Newra Bazaar, though hesitant at first, she decided to take the opportunity to work as a cold storage operator. She has now been in this role for 3 months and this extra source of income has allowed her family a chance at a better quality of life. She says, she didn’t face any obstruction from her family to take up this position and, in fact, they encouraged her and offered support in carrying out the household chores.

As an operator, Rita Devi helps farmers with cleaning, sorting, arranging and weighing the perishable horticulture produce they want to store for cooling. She helps them load their produce into crates and into the cold room. She also maintains records of customers, produce stored, quantity, and the duration, to be able to charge them in cash for the service on a pay-per-use basis when they come to collect their produce. She is also in-charge of cleaning the solar panels and general upkeep and security of the unit.

Oorja team ensured that she was adequately upskilled and trained for the job. As she has a good understanding of the local agricultural practices and maintains a network with the farmers in the area, she is confident of providing excellent service to Oorja’s customers and resolving their problems satisfactorily. She confides that while she enjoys all aspects of the job, what she finds most fascinating is entering the names of vegetables and fruits being stored into the AI-driven remote monitoring and control app that automatically adjusts the cold room temperature and humidity. Currently, she is assisted by another team member Chandan Kumar in technology operations but will soon be able to handle it on her own.

She feels that this livelihood opportunity has empowered her to become economically independent, especially critical during the present crisis caused by the pandemic. She is also proud of setting an example for other women around her to take up more active roles in their communities and move from being only users of services to decision-makers of how they are delivered, to gain agency and live with dignity.

Oorja Development Solutions is one of the semi-finalists of the Cisco Agri Challenge. Founded by Amit Saraogi and Clementine Chambon, Oorja finances, install, operate and maintains off-grid distributed solar energy systems for community use and sells affordable and reliable irrigation, milling and refrigeration services on a pay-per-use basis, without any upfront cost to them.. To know more about the semi-finalists, click here.