Well, it was a program run by the Indian School of Business(ISB) in collaboration with Goldman Sachs, targeted at underserved women entrepreneurs. This much-loved initiative ended up benefiting as many as 1400 women across the country. The program sought out unique businesses run by women- And naturally farmed grapes fuelled by women’s power definitely fit this bill, run by, for, and with women by the brilliant Nina Patil and her Umrani farms based in a small area near Sangli, Maharashtra. Although most people might know Nasik as the wine belt of India- Nina chose the much smaller area around Sangli as hers to experiment with and procure from. Her farming ideas drew inspiration primarily from the father of zero-budget farming in India, Subash Palekar.
The little rural belt around Sangli was much more pliable to Nina’s experimental ideas as the farming community was small and mostly led by women (menfolk were generally away in bigger cities for work). In a refreshing change, Nina found the homemakers of Sangli quite open to trials of Mulch farming, once they were reassured by her presence as a woman, the same as them. So what is so unique about the grapes of Umrani farms and Sangli, you might ask. For starters, Umrani never uses sulfur-based bleach, a complete refusal to compromise with the taste and quality of their raisins, which are naturally sun-browned and black. Their grapes are also amazing in taste, high in nutritional value, and entirely naturally farmed.
Nina explained the difference between natural farming and organic farming- an eye-opener!
Natural farming used organic or inorganic-based mulch to build the immunity of the plant and to preserve the fertility of the soil, which in turn adds a unique flavor to the produce.
In fact, this unique taste was recognized by various international companies now importing the produce from Umrani farms; concerns such as Spar Austria, Co-op Switzerland and Walmart Canada, to name a few. Nina’s concept of using the natural biological growing starter has reinvented and revived the face of farming across small farms all over the drought-prone district of Sangli, now proudly called the prime grape exporters hub. The biological brooms used for farming here are quite different from organic farming which has more chances of crop failure as opposed to natural farming, wherein a rare case scenario, chemicals might be used. However, such a situation has hardly come up in the 27 years of exporting these naturally sun-dried grapes from Umrani farms. Talking about her experience as the driving force of this vineyard green revolution headed by women-led households, Nina expresses her joy of working with women ready to experiment and take risks, with her ideas as the backbone.
Nina’s policy? “Use and experience! “ her policy wherein now her venture also provides biological starters for smaller independent units also. A TISS (Tate Institute of Social Sciences) graduate, Nina has been the innovative brain behind the practice of using indigenous and local produce for her venture.
Talking about COVID-19, Nina feels that the ISB and Goldman Sachs program holds even more validity, importance, and usefulness for her and entrepreneurs like her, in these challenging times. ISB, in its turn, has pivoted with the times, and recently unveiled the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Ambassadors Programme Reimagining Business, in the wake of COVID-19 and travel restrictions. Through its unique online delivery model, the program aims to prepare its 10K Women Alumni to lead their teams through crisis and equip them with the tools to repurpose their businesses.
And it was thanks to this that she decided to experiment during those slump years and venture not just into grape farming, but other kinds of products as well, including moringa, aloe vera, gluten-free, jowar and maize varieties through natural farming.
Born and bought up amidst the beauty of an Assamese tea estate and married into a typical Maharashtrian family Nina has traveled a long road of innovative techniques and re-imagination to take her smart unique venture where it is today- an awe-inspiring journey!
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