‘One thing that's been really difficult is the language – I don't speak Hindi or Gujarati. It's a daily struggle and it wouldn't work at all if it wasn't for my dad. He's basically my translator; he knows the culture and he knows everyone. But when he's not here, I have to communicate through gestures and pointing. It's frustrating; I'm unable to communicate basic stuff and it makes everything slower.
‘It's also very different culturally. People keep asking me if I'm married, because for someone who's my age  to be unmarried and sitting on land makes people wonder what's wrong with me. There are moments when I think this move has been a massive mistake – but those moments don't last very long, mainly because I really, really believe in what I'm doing.’
‘Cyclone Tauktae hits – one of the biggest in this area for 30 years. It's a huge shock. The storm comes right in the middle of our mango season – our main cash crop – which need hot, dry and still conditions to grow. I see the aftermath in the morning and it's chaos. Compared with some other farmers, we got off pretty lightly, but it still feels tragic. This is my first year when I've seen mangoes grow from a flower to a fruit, while nurturing and caring for these things. And then we're literally a week away from being able to pick them and 90% fall to the ground. Whatever falls, we just can't sell. We have to resign ourselves to the fact that we're pretty much not making an income this year. It's really hard to take and I feel so deflated – everything was building up and then, out of nowhere, something comes along and just pops the balloon.
‘We just have to get on with it because we can't let all the fruit rot on the land. Over the next three or four days, we pick the fruit up. All the stuff that's salvageable we process and turn into juice. There's no space to even reflect on what's happened which, in some ways, is a good thing because we don't have the opportunity to get low and inactive. We have to do something right now.’
Doing it myself
‘This farm has been operational since 1955; it's my first season and I have no intention of changing the system. I want to observe and learn how things are done, even if I don't necessarily agree with it all. But with 90% of the crop down, there are no contractors to bid for our produce. So I have an amount of crop that I can actually sell myself. I begin by using my personal networks to start selling directly to people and explain the situation – I name the surviving mangoes Riders of the Storm.
‘It's an amazing experience. I go through the entire process, from picking to packing, talking to customers, selling and getting everything from A to B. I eventually want to make the farm direct to consumer, but I wasn't expecting to do it this year. I'm learning how we can do it ourselves. So much amazing stuff is coming from the cyclone that it's getting to the point where, when I reflect on it, I actually wouldn't change it.’
First big sale!
‘I'm the main person dealing with sales and I'm on my phone 24/7, on Instagram or WhatsApp. I definitely have doubts – I've never sold anything before. Also, our local market isn't particularly developed, because a lot of buyers don't really know the difference between chemically grown mangoes and the organic ones that we're growing. Through a friend, I get in touch with a small retailer in Ahmedabad whose values align with ours – the retailer is trying to empower farmers. It puts in a large order that really gets us off the ground. It's an amazing feeling that we can actually do this without a contractor or a middleman. It's a massive high and gives me the confidence that there's a market for us.’
‘It's too early to say that we've done any true community empowerment, but there have been a few times when I feel like we can make a change. Our neighbors are Maldhari tribal herdsmen who live in the forest with their cattle. One of the tribesmen is an old friend of mine. I've always wanted to help his family, and we've started a partnership involving our cattle – cows are an important aspect of organic farming.
‘I see an amazing future between us and his family when it comes to a venture around ghee. The family don't currently have enough money to have a herd, but we have the land and the capacity to help them. So I really see our relationship as being a massive opportunity for them to really move to another level when it comes to their income, almost like micro entrepreneurs. That's got them really excited. It just gives that little bit of hope that there can be a bright future ahead.’
This article was first published in Courier issue 44, December 2021/January 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.