Rural Enterprise Network
The Rural Enterprise Network (REN) emerged from a pilot project initiated by Practical Action aiming to bring the collective entrepreneurial efforts of small scale producers under one brand name to build the confidence and capacity of the rural entrepreneurs to compete in formal established markets. The first step taken by REN to achieve this goal was providing professional services of the same calibre as those enjoyed by the formal business sector such as marketing, technology , business development and management advice.
Since inception, membership in REN has grown to 250 members. A few community members are appointed as directors of the company. At the board meetings, held every two months, professional staff members report on business development, marketing, finance and quality assurance activities; and follow up action is taken.
Efforts to create a market for processed naturally grown agro produce has had a ripple effect on the wider community. It is not only the producer members who have benefited, but also medicinal herb collectors, sap tapping communities and home gardeners who have been able to generate income from selling under-utilised products to the processing centres.
Through branding efforts these products have won consumer trust and loyalty. Bringing different products under one brand has also increased the producer community's bargaining power, resulting in a 20-35 % price increase. Further, in 2004, two new products from the REN product range - kithul jaggery and treacle were introduced to export markets, proving its viability in terms of quality, profitability and markets. These first trials have proven that the market is ready to pay high prices for quality.
REN also facilitates interaction between members and professionals in related trade areas. This ensures that the producer community's voice is heard at the planning and policy levels. One such instance was REN participating in a consultative meeting to formulate strategies to develop rural industries organised by the Ministry of Rural Economic Development.
Sales centre for handicrafts
In 2006, Practical Action and Sarvodaya came in to Wanduruppa, a small village, in Ambalantota, to start work on a project to implement a Livelihood Development Project to improve living conditions. One of the successful programmes implemented by this project was a technical training on Producing Handicraft Items using Water Hyacinth. In April 2008 "Visithuru Kalashilpa Sanvardana Samitiya" moved into their handicraft sales centre, which will hopefully help the handicraft producer group to link up with more market opportunities. More ...