Last Thursday, many of us traveled to Birmingham for a meet and greet with AIBP, a group interested in strengthening the relationship between Alabama and India. While we were there, the president of the organization mentioned that he had been following our blog and was wondering when we were going to finish it. With classes going on, we never got around to blogging about our last week in India, where we set out in groups to conduct field research and work on product development. We would like to follow through on our promise to Sanjay (shoutout to you if you’re reading this!) and talk about what each group did.
My group consisted of two people – me (Sheela) and Meagan. Initially, we wanted to tackle the problem that the farmers were having with their grain storage. Many of their storage containers and bags were torn and/or were difficult to transport. As we talked to more villagers, however, our focus changed and evolved. We were noticing a greater problem involving their storage of produce. When we went to a fishing village in Cheyur, the fishermen were tossing around their freshly caught fish in the sand. This was their way of preventing flies from surrounding the fish and spreading diseases.
After doing so, they placed the fish in large metal vessels without ice. When asking them about this, a fisherman told us that there was a false perception in India that the use of ice to preserve fish is an indication that the fish is low quality. Therefore, they would not be able to sell frozen fish at a high price. The wives of the fishermen would typically sell the fish in the afternoon (around 7 hours after going out by boat).
It was then that we wanted to create a product that could keep the fish cool and fresh without freezing them. This product could also be used by vegetable venders who kept their produce out in the hot air all day. Therefore, we hope to make our product a fabric of sorts that could be converted into a bag or lining by the villagers themselves. We think it is important for the Indians to be involved in the manufacturing of the product for two reasons. First, if they are involved in making it, they would be more inclined to actually use and promote the product. Secondly, it would create local jobs. We were able to talk to a women’s support group that currently sews together jute bags for a variety of purposes. We feel that they would be an excellent channel for the manufacturing of our product.
After presenting our idea to a panel of Indians and the Board of Visitors here, we are working with Phifer Wire and DuPont to continue this product development. The seniors even chose our idea to use for one of their senior design projects, focused on the cold supply chain in India. We can’t wait to see what happens!