Skip to main content

A Lesson From Climate Change: Grapes are Sweeter!

Ever since The George Foundation started its operations in 1995 in Tamil Nadu, India, we have been working toward generating internal sources of income to fund at least part of the expenses for our various humanitarian projects. Baldev Farms is one such effort -- to empower poor women who work on our farms, while generating profits. In the initial two years, the farm was growing vegetables - tomatoes, beans, gherkins, etc. We even tied up a marketing arrangement with a French company in Bangalore. Despite high crop output, we couldn't make a profit. For example, tomatoes prices fluctuated between Rs.0.50 to Rs.4.00 per kg every year. One has to be lucky to harvest the crop when the price is high; usually prices are high only when the crop is out of season.

We switched to bananas in early 2000 when the rains were predictable and sufficient. It is one crop that maintains fairly steady prices – between Rs. 4.50 and Rs. 5.50 per kg most of the year (though prices haven't risen in these 6 years). The fact that bananas are the poor man's fruit was an added attraction. We knew that it needs plenty of water daily. Hence we joined forces (technology transfer) with Natafin (an Israeli company) to find ways to reduce the need for water. The techniques used were drip irrigation, mulching, compost (which holds water), and use of "good" bacteria. With these, one acre required around 7,000 litres of water daily. That quantity of water is only 1/3rd to 1/4th of what is usually given under flood irrigation (without drip -- 28,000 litres). Yet we were getting excellent quality bananas, with bunch weight mostly between 25 Kgs and 35 Kgs.

With nearly 200 acres of land under cultivation, the daily need for water was still 1.4 million litres. Since there are no rivers around, we drilled dozens of ground wells for water. We thought we could capture sufficient rain water each year to recharge the underground water. A check-dam was built, and nearly 100 collection pits were made. But with rain shortages in almost all the years since 2000 (30-60% less than the average rainfall in previous years), we were experiencing significant declines in ground water levels. We laid pipelines for a distance of 7 kms from wells in a dry lake-bed elsewhere, but this was still not enough.

Finally in 2006 we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer for a favorable climate change. If we are to believe in recent climate forecasts based on global warming, the chances are that rains will only decrease over the coming years. We decided to switch over to grape vine.

Vine is a semi-arid crop. It doesn't like much water. Watering once or twice a week is enough . Again, with drip, proper mulching and compost, water consumption can be kept to a minimum. If it starts raining as it used to 10 years ago, our vineyard will be in trouble!

So here it is. For us, grapes are sweeter than bananas. We are switching from a poor man's crop to a rich man's crop. While there is no revenue for the next 3 years until fruiting starts, we expect that grapes will soon cover some of the costs incurred for our other projects, and still employ lots of people. May be, we will get into the liquor business one day to help the poor! But it is no easy task. Vine requires lots of care -- grafting, pruning, etc. Diseases, termites, rodents and birds are problems to handle. Hopefully it is still a wise strategic decision not to fight mother-nature.

Please visit us at and


joe said…
This comment has been removed by the author.

Popular posts from this blog

Simple Solutions to the Rural Education Crisis

It seems many people are trying to find innovative solutions to improving the quality of education in rural areas, especially among the poor. Since most rural children study at government-run schools, the focus of any effort to improve quality and performance must be on those institutions. Without waiting for the state government to act, NGOs can directly interact with the administrators of those schools, especially the headmasters, and village leaders to implement measures that can yield positive results. That is precisely what The George Foundation has been doing since 2004 in the 17 villages surrounding its own school, Shanti Bhavan.

Three years ago our foundation initiated a community development plan that included working with government-run schools in our area. Deverapalli Government School was the first one we took on, and within two years of starting the program, it was judged as the “best” in the district by the educational authorities. Based on this project and our Shanti Bha…

Self-confidence, the Answer to Better Learning

I am frequently asked by visitors to Shanti Bhavan from America whether our educational model would work in the West.  They are curious to know how caste and class prejudices experienced in India can be overcome by our graduates when they enter the workplace. These are complicated questions, and they need a broad explanation that cannot be fully covered in this blog. The landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Brown v. Board of Education was meant to rectify the unequal status of racially separate schools. Now, even after several decades of desegregation measures, including busing children from some affluent families to poor neighborhood schools, their impact on the academic progress of minorities is being questioned. Many factors contribute to reducing the achievement gap in American schools, and racial integration may not necessarily be a solution to the difficulties faced in lifting the educational levels of minority students. As an Asian immigrant who came to America fif…

A Second Front

It has been quite a while since I wrote my last blog. For some reason, I had concluded that there wasn’t enough readership interest in my personal notes and critiques of the country’s system. But recently, a friend of mine who stumbled upon my earlier blogs urged me to continue. Moreover, I had promised in my last blog to write about my experiences as an artillery officer along India’s western border with Pakistan, but I hadn’t kept my word. So finally I made up my mind to venture into writing blogs once again. My medical leave following the dynamite explosion in which I was injured while at Se La Pass was to last six weeks. I had returned home to Trivandrum sufficiently frost bitten to have my large ear lobes and nose turn dark, and skin pealing like a snake’s scales. It was a central topic in several hilarious conversations with guests when they visited our home, and I had a lot of stories to tell about my adventures in the snow-covered mountains of the Himalayas. Everyone wanted to …