Bernadette Khongsngi, former housewife, present day farmer entrepreneur, resident of Umran village located about 35 Kms along NH-40 connecting Shillong to Guwahati. With seven children and a village teacher husband, she is the epitome of a normal Khasi housewife but with one exception; she is also a business woman. Originally hailing from Sohra, famous for its rains, Bernadette moved from her ancestral village and came to settle in Umran in 1992.
Having initially tried her hand at growing paddy, ginger as well as poultry, piggery and brick making, with not much success, Bernadette was selected as a floriculture beneficiary under the Technology Mission in 2002-03 and was provided with one low cost shadehouse, 6000 bulbs of Gladioli, 5000 Liliums, Amaryllis, Carnations and Hyacinth to test the suitability of these flowers in the area. Lilum and Amaryllis turned out to be successes but not Gladiolus while Carnations was successful but not profitable.
Taking note of her sincerity and love for flowers, Bernadette was encouraged by the office of the District Horticulture Officer, Nongpoh, to expand her activities under floriculture and was given a vermicomposting unit to generate compost for her plants. Incidentally she is the first woman farmer to produce vermicompost in the District. This helped her a lot as she not only had compost of her own but she could sell it too. In 2004 Bernadette along with five of her friends formed a women SHG called Kyntiewlang Women’s Group which has now expanded to seven members and is engaged in activities like strawberry cultivation.
With the start given by the Technology Mission, Bernadette has now given up all the other activities like brick making and poultry to concentrate exclusively on flowers and has set up her Sloan Flower Nursery cum Vermicompost as well as expanded her portfolio to include potted plants and seedlings. She has also taken up the cultivation of Anthurium, Leather leaf, Heliconia, Roses and Strawberries. Some of the activities like strawberries are being carried out on her land for the benefit of her group. Being located on the National Highway, she is in a unique position to showcase her flowers and potted plants and tourists passing by as well as people from the city regularly stop to buy her plants. With the proceeds from her sales, she has constructed a small showroom to house her more exotic pots and foliage plants as well as a small shop that doubled as a PCO until the advent of mobile phones.
In conversation with us, Bernadette or Kong Ber as she is fondly called, informed that she is sending only liliums to the Dewlieh Horticulture Farm for grading, packing and marketing by ZOPAR Exports Pvt. Ltd, while her gerberas, Anthurium, potted plants, etc are being sold in the markets of Shillong as well as meeting home orders. Discovering that there exists a very good demand for potted plants, she has now taken the initiative to travel to nurseries in Assam to source good quality and exotic planting material, which she brings back, multiplies and then sells for a tidy profit. Recently she has also started the business of making bouquets for people which she says is slowly picking up. She has also participated in many seasonal flower shows being organized by the Regional Rural Training Center (RRTC) Umran as well as study tours conducted by the Department and has a sheaf of certificates to prove it.
With such dedication and zeal combined with a friendly manner, it is no wonder that people regularly drop by to buy her flowers and potted plants and she averages about Rs. 500/- to Rs. 1000/- sales per day which she says has been sufficient for her to put her seven children through school and college as well as provide a personal computer for them to learn. Seeing her example, women of the village have got together and formed another five groups under her leadership of which she is proud of and takes a very active part in all their activities and in guiding them. Her one wish is to be able to open a way side tourist stop so that people passing by get a chance to stop, relax with a cup of tea while admiring and maybe buying her flowers. In an earlier conversation with us she had expressed a wish for a small showroom for her flowers, which has been realized. Going by past experience we would not be surprised if sooner rather than later, this determined lady would fulfill her own wish.