Written by Nomi Karniel-Padan, Grapa Commercial Director

INDIA’S TABLE GRAPE INDUSTRY FEELS THE WINDS OF CHANGE

Almost all growers (80%) in India are limited to small plots of about 2-4 hectares, which makes their livelihood ever more difficult, especially given the changing local and global reality. Among others, these challenges include increased input costs, climate change and the worldwide decrease in demand for traditional varieties, such as Thompson Seedless, which is the predominant variety in the Indian Table Grape industry.

Fortunately, I was able to witness developments that are generating a positive new direction, during my recent visit with Uzi Yaron, Grapa Varieties, R&D Director, to Sahyadri Farms, the ARRA Varieties’ Exclusive representative in India.

The ARRA varieties table grape breeding program boasts unique advantages, such as: tolerance to rain and the ability to thrive in diverse climates; grower friendliness that translates to economic efficiency with lowered labour costs; offering the earliest white, red, and black selections in the world.

Sahyadri Farms, founded in 2011 is today India’s largest integrated platform for fruits and vegetables. As the biggest farmer collective in this sector, it services over 18,000 registered farmers across 30,000 acres with 9 crops and is also India’s largest grape exporter.

On my trip, among the Sahyadri founders that I met, were Vilas Shinde, Chairman and Managing Director and Azhar Tambuwala, Marketing Director. From them, I heard about the roots of Sahyadri Farms. Vilas Shinde, having grown up in a rural area, experiencing and witnessing the hardships of the small-landholding farmers of India, was set on finding the way to ensure farmers receive fair compensation for their produce and provide for their families with dignity.

Along his determined journey, Shinde’s path merged with Tambuwala, who derived from an urban area and due to his global grape business, under operation then, he recognised the significant gap between the quality of the local produce compared to that available worldwide. He questioned how this disparity could be reduced and how farmers could access modern technology and facilities to meet global standards and array.

This brought them together to address the challenges of the horticulture sector of India and set an example with Sahyadri Farms for the smaller growers across the country.

I was thoroughly impressed with how clear and ethical Sahyadri’s vision and mission are: To build people, processes, and practices: empowering smallholder Indian farmers and enabling them to compete with the best by cultivating the highest quality fresh produce. They relentlessly try to make the world a better place and to ensure there will always be someone to care for the growers. How fitting that Sahyadri is the name of a mountain range in Western India, as Sahyadri farms has moved mountains bringing about unfathomable change to the agroindustry in India.

Already in 2014 the founders understood that a crucial part of the necessary change is obtaining for their growers new varieties, that meet the demand of the international markets. Most international breeding companies were hesitant to enter India due to uncertainty around protecting their varieties. However, my family’s business, Grapa Varieties, that commercialises the ARRA Varieties, realised that Sahyadri could achieve the control and quality to safeguard our IP.

It was only natural that Sahyadri Farms and Grapa Varieties connected, due to our mutual pioneering and creative orientations. This synergetic partnership brought the ARRA varieties to India.

Following our visit Uzi reported: “Due to its resilience to diverse weather conditions and heavy precipitation, ARRA Sweeties™ has been found to be a more suitable alternative to Thompson seedless. Additionally, the variety is cost effective and produces 90% export quality fruit, compared to 60% with Thompson. The transition from producing Thompson to ARRA Sweeties posed its own set of challenges. However, owing to the motivation and determination of the local technical teams and growers, we can now witness the significant change and success that this has brought to the cooperative”.

While visiting villages in Nashik, where growers of the Sahyadri cooperative are cultivating ARRA Sweeties, we were welcomed warmly by entire families of growers with smiling faces conveying their gratitude for the opportunity that has been given to them.

To summarise my visit I would like to share some of Vilas’ words: “I invested all my resources in achieving the mission and even though I know there is more work to do, I can look with satisfaction at the organization where we all work like one big family and that is what makes us strong. We have done something special and different. I would like to see more organizations in all fields of agriculture creating opportunities, like those created by Sahyadri with the same beneficial effect on the lives of farmers in India.”

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