Dworsening financial conditions, debilitating drought and erratic weather conditions had nearly forced the Pawar family to sell their 8-acre vineyard in Nashik to survive. The debt-ridden family couldn’t get more loans, and giving up their ancestral land seemed like the only solution at the time.
However, stepdaughter Meena felt the opposite. She could foresee the financial hardship that the sale of land and the loss of the only source of income for the family could cause. So, with her spirit and courage to “never give up”, she helped her husband and family collect debts worth Rs 23 lakh.
Meena married her husband Namdev in 2000 and moved to the village of Nilwandi in Nashik. “We worked as farm laborers in neighboring vineyards to earn a living. My husband wanted to create a grape vineyard on a small piece of land. But the family did not have the capital to do so. We had to find a solution, ”she said. The best India.
An eternal struggle
Meena therefore mortgaged her jewelry and received Rs 80,000 in return. “We needed the money to set up the drip irrigation system and install the farm infrastructure,” she says.
Meena took matters into her own hands and worked on the construction of the farm, and by 2004 she and Namdev had established an acre of vineyard. The couple invested the profits from the sales in expanding the farm. In 2006, they enlarged the vineyard to 4 hectares.
“We took out an additional loan from a relative to further increase the number of vines on the land. In 2009, the vineyard was growing well and we managed to produce quality grapes. Our financial situation seemed to be improving. But we didn’t know our minds were about to be wiped out, ”said the 38-year-old.
In 2009, Cyclone Phyan brought heavy rains, causing severe damage to the vineyard. “The grapes had grown and the harvest season was about to begin when we lost around 70% of the vineyard due to the extreme weather event. The produce and even the vines were lost, ”says Meena.
She adds that to add to their woes, the repayment date of their first payment for the loans was approaching. “Our years of trying to achieve financial stability wore off overnight. Until 2011, we paid off debts and continued to farm without profit or loss, ”she says. “It was becoming difficult to feed the family and meet our living expenses. To deal with the situation, we decided to buy a cheap mini-truck from an acquaintance. We planned to grow vegetables, transport them to the nearby market and sell the produce. This would provide additional income for the family outside of the vineyard.
However, the move was unsuccessful and turned into a loss-making business. The situation worsened when the district faced drought conditions in 2012. “The water shortage caused the vineyard to dry up, and we lost the vines and production entirely,” she says, adding that the situation prompted the family to sell the truck.
“We paid off the loan amount on the truck with all the money we had and are rock bottom. Over the years the loans had accumulated and amounted to Rs 23 lakh, ”she said.
The family members decided to get rid of their ancestral land and pay off the debts. “There was little capital on hand and no farming was possible due to the drought. But I was against giving up our only source of income and hope. Somehow I convinced my in-laws to change their decision and even shut down a pending deal, ”Meena said.
Sharing her ordeal and her struggle to win over family members, Meena says, “I had no farming experience. Everyone felt the stress and burden of debt, and it became difficult to make rational decisions. There was no ‘plan B’ on how selling the land and paying off the loan would help restore our lives from another source of income, ”she says.
Meena says she had numerous arguments with her husband over the next few weeks. “Namdev said the situation was beyond our ability to manage and I was unable to understand the gravity of it. But I was afraid to raise my two daughters and my son. Without agriculture, we would be landless and homeless, ”she recalls.
Meena vowed to herself that she would learn various aspects of farming and seek help from others. “Pursuing agriculture was our only solution, because we were the best at it,” she notes.
“I knew that a different approach could help us overcome the situation. Namdev finally accepted, ”she adds.
To meet the farm’s water needs, Meena decided to build an agricultural pond using a government program. “I asked for a loan of Rs 3 lakh for the same. Namdev suggested contacting the Sahyadri Farmer Producer Company, an entity formed by grape growers, ”she said.
Meena says the move has helped them meet their water needs and benefit from the technical know-how of other farmers on how to grow grapes. “This knowledge has helped us to produce quality grapes suitable for export. It also helped us connect with larger local markets that could offer better prices for our agricultural products, ”she says.
However, Meena and Namdev still lacked funds to recruit agricultural labor. “It was only Namdev and I who took care of the upkeep of the farm until harvest. We couldn’t afford a single worker and sometimes relied on neighbors for help. A friend lent us the insecticides and pesticides, ”she says.
With continued determination, Meena’s hard work paid off when their 5 acre land produced grapes and an income of Rs 30 lakh from the first harvest. “In 2013, we cleared the farm pond loans and money borrowed from friends and relatives. The following year, the products brought us an income of Rs 32 lakh, with which we paid off all our overdue debts and fully recovered the financial burden, ”she said.
“I am stronger than ever”
Namdev is grateful to Meena and says, “We were in a difficult situation. His decision to hold onto the pitch was fair, but on the other hand, the debts were piling up. We were also getting a bad deal for the sale of the land, and if it hadn’t held up, we would have sunk into irrecoverable losses. I’m glad his decision paid off.
Since then, Meena has led all responsibilities at the vineyard. “In 2018, we managed to build a house and ultimately buy an additional 16-acre vineyard in the village of Girnare,” she adds proudly.
The Pawar family rented the vineyard from another farmer. “We have expanded our ancestral vineyard to 7 acres now, which brings in a decent income. My daughters are studying engineering at a reputable college and my son is studying at a private school. I’m glad I made it through all the ups and downs, ”says Meena.
The years of struggle made her confident. Meena says, “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges and has forgiven us some debts. But we survived the worst and fought hard. Debt no longer scares me. I feel stronger than ever.
She adds, “Hard work has helped provide a comfortable life for my children and I have achieved my life goal. “
Edited by Divya Sethu