Grape Expectations: Women’s labour bears fruit in Nashik

ARRA Varieties™ were recently featured in The Hindu Business Line.  Click here to see the article, or read more below.

The hundreds of women who play a big part in the cultivation and export of the fruit have bittersweet stories to share.

The sprawling grape farms of Nashik on the foothills of the Western Ghats present a heady picture of success. Every year several lakh tonnes of grapes are exported from here.

Behind Nashik’s successful grape economy is a story of women’s labour bearing fruit. Hundreds of women are playing a big part in the cultivation and export of grapes, sowing new ideas and adopting new technology. Many have bitter sweet stories to share.

Take Sangeeta Boraste. Married at the age of 15 to Nashik based farmer Arun in 1990, she had no clue about farming. In 2014, when her husband died leaving behind a debt of 30 lakh, Sangeeta stepped into the field.

She learnt the basics of farming and realised that without new technology it would be impossible to generate a profit. Seven years after her husband’s death, Sangeeta is exporting grapes to Europe, earning a handsome income. She has repaid all the loans.

Now, she plans to introduce new grape varieties, and put in systems that will protect her crops from the vagaries of weather.

Look around Nashik’s fields and there are many like Sangeeta who have turned around their lives cultivating grapes.

“We have seen that men end lives after crop loss. But this is not the case with women farmers. They have fought the battle of life with determination,” says Ruchika Dhikale, who is documenting the struggle and success of Nashik’s women farmers. Nashik, along with Sangli, is a major grape-growing hub in Maharashtra, which accounts for over 80 per cent of the country’s production. Nashik district alone has about 2 lakh acres of grape plantations.

“It is the women in Nashik who are the pivot of grape cultivation,” acknowledges Vilas Shinde, Chairman of Sahyadri Farmers’ Producer Company Ltd, describing how men are more involved in financial matters related to exports.

Open to Ideas

Women are certainly more open to experimentation. Take Bharati Kushare, who has planted ARRA 15, a new variety of grape in her farm that gives two harvest seasons in a year. She says that one has to experiment in farming. Like Sangeeta Boraste, she lost her husband and had to step into cultivation to pay off loans. Her farm is thriving now and she is investing in new technology.

Or, meet Jaishree Patil, who drives a tractor, manages the farmland and takes the big decisions at the family’s grape field. Her husband Ramdas readily admits that it is because of her that the family could expand its assets from three-acres to twenty acres.

It’s a heady story of women’s empowerment, for sure.

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