Organic Effect of Guna: In Talks With Neha Upadhyay
Q) What triggered the idea of ‘Guna’ and how is it significant to the society?
A) A woman’s work on the field is often hidden, ironically it is more than that of men and farm animals put together. For every one ha (Hectare) of farmland, women put in 3485 hours. Whereas, men put in 1212 hours and a pair of bollocks put in 1064 hours. Also, in India, every half an hour a male farmer commits suicide leaving behind a widow and vulnerable young children. These statistics are hidden and the youth is distracted with digital communication. We, at Guna have pledged to be an eco positive and gender sensitive model to improve people’s palette, condition of women farmers and the planet.
With the ever increasing human population and rapid depletion of natural resources, it has become increasingly important to diversify agriculture in order to meet various human needs.
This thought has led to the rise of GM (Genetically modified) crops and has increased the import of expensive, sometimes toxic ingredients which has led to the replacement of nutritionally rich foods and underutilization of native food products.
I believe consumer demand will lead to a shift to an eco-positive eating habits and ecological agriculture will further empower rural women farmers.
2. How would you describe Guna’s growth trajectory?
A) We work with the most genuine organic women farmers, eco villages and self help groups of Ladakh, Kerala, Uttaranchal and Afghanistan. We also give macrobiotic consults to individual clients and have held workshops in the past to raise awareness about Macrobiotics and healing through food.
Guna won partnership of UNFAO (Food and Agriculture association of the United Nations) Save food initiative for its work. We make nutritionally rich crops easily available across New Delhi, NCR. One of our first products was the Ladakhi Organic Apricot nut, sea buckthorn squash.
(Also Read, About this girl who works with Farmers to bring Awesome Organic Products)
In just a year we have been able to tie up with Ten Brick and mortar stores along with several online stores. We have twenty nutritionally rich products in our portfolio. We have impacted 650 rural women farmers, 6 Indian states and provided these products to 800 households. We aim to double our revenue and product portfolio while working with more women farmers. I wish to expand to the tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and, streamlining our operations by investing in E-commerce, technology, self-help groups and logistics.
3. Looking at the current status of farmers in our country, how does Guna play out in the equation?
A)My love for clean balanced food and my firm belief in eco positive, nutritious eating will positively impact the livelihood of farmers, health of consumers and in the bigger picture, climate change.
I also feel very pained by the Indian statistics of a farmer committing suicide every thirty minutes and a woman being raped every twenty minutes. I want to improve this grave situation. This was one of the reasons I was convinced of leaving my cushy life in England. Prakriti (nature) is feminine, and whatever is happening to it has a direct correlation of what is happening to women today.
(Also Read - Bringing High-Quality Organic Products, The Rustic Way)
Women, just like “prakriti” (mother nature), are being jeopardised. Beej (seed), which is a form of reproducing life, is also “janini” (woman). I am propagating that.
Q) Tell us about your childhood ambition? Did you share it with your family or friends?
A) My childhood ambition was to be a social worker. I am now running a social enterprise, fortunately. I never shared much of my goals, ambitions with my family or friends as I was an introvert.
Q) Share with our readers about your education and also tell us whether your studies were aimed at pursuing your career?
A) I feel very fortunate and blessed to have been educated by amazing teachers from premier schools in India and England.
I did my high school from DPS RK Puram and majored in Humanities. After that I pursued a Bachelor’s in Psychology and People in Organisations from Lancaster University. A natural extension of which was my MSc. in Human Resource Management and Organisational Analysis. I worked in recruitment with Healthcare companies and Education.
The HR concepts I learnt have helped me in managing my own staff and setting up my social enterprise.
It was while I was working with Mossbourne community academy, wherein I saw children suffering from Juvenile diabetes, ADHD, and other such disorders. Post diagnosis, they were treated with western medicines which is basically habit forming. I have my reservations on this practise.
I believe food has a major role to play in an individual behaviour and psyche. After all we are what we eat and think. My education in Psychology and belief in food healing led me to undergo training at the Daylesford Organic Cookery School and whole food harmony (The Premier Trust For Organic Practises in Europe), I learnt the art of organic macrobiotic cooking. A concept that was relatively new to India. Cooking in earthen vessels, drinking water in silver/copper glasses, were things that were prevalent in Ancient India, but forgotten today. The benefits of such things were being taught and imbibed by locals in England.
Thus, I strongly felt a need to come back and help people connect to their food. Organic food led me to further understand sustainable agriculture, I invested a lot of my time in organic farm visits, meeting tribals, agriculturists and finally doing a course from Navdanya Bija Vidyapith in Uttarakhand. My teachers in Macrobiotics; Anna Freedman, Organics, Vladimir Niza, Dr. Vandana and Mira Shiva are wonderful human beings and excellent professional role models. Combining all these wonderful teachings and being connected to my own beliefs of learning by doing, I have been able to achieve and set up GUNA.
Q) How did your family and friends react to your decision of entrepreneurship with the high-risk concept like Guna?
A) My friends have been very supportive, only few couldn’t understand organics and macrobiotics, some had their reservations of it doing well in India as they had perceived it as a western concept or someone copy pasting an idea from the west. I come from a family of educators and government officials, the idea of setting up a business on her own, I gathered little support but not much criticism, stereotypical comments were passed by my relatives “A girl cannot do business,” “Stick to HR Job,” “her clock is ticking,” “she should first settle down,” etc.
I was 27, when I started my entrepreneurial journey which is the peak marriage age for girls in my family, so everyone insisted that I focus on that or start a business once I am married. I felt pressurised earlier, now I laugh it off. I love breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes with ease, humility and not intentionally hurting anyone in the process.
Q) Did you face any prejudices or biases against you in the process to set up your venture?
At one of the entrepreneurial summits , Mr. Amitabh Kant who heads Niti Aayog said , “Being a woman entrepreneur in India is tough and being a young woman entrepreneur is even tougher.” Some peers have been supportive, some have perceived me as young threat. I believe most Indians have deep set reservations when trading in commodities with women. Being educated with the right trainings has always been an advantage but being young and someone at the “Indian marriageable age” has been a disadvantage.
Q) What was your mechanism to counter challenges on the way?
I was armed with educational trainings and a strong belief in organics, macrobiotics. Challenges have been lack of adequate resources (start up capital, infrastructure) and adjusting to India, its working styles, especially after having spent eight years in England.
I still have many hurdles to overcome, which will happen with time, patience and a strong will to continue what I set out to achieve.
Meeting like minded people in organics and especially interacting with strong professional role models really helped me.
Q) What would you advise our readers, especially women, who want to pursue their dreams?
There is a positive change in India with more women joining the workforce. I always encourage young women whoever I interact with at entrepreneurial summits or in organics to:
1.Follow themselves and not give in to the hurdles or excuses we create for ourselves.
2.Infect themselves with a positive, a can-do-attitude and be open to learn by undertaking challenges.
3.We make excellent support systems to our family members, friends, we can do the same for ourselves. We must accept that.
4. Passion and handwork have no substitute. Keep calm and work really, really, hard.
5. Look for and seek teachings from professional role models in your own field and others.
Q) Where do you see yourself 10 years down the line?
I see myself as a successful social entrepreneur, owning an organic cafe or store that puts agriculture, farmers and nutrition front and centre. GUNA to have expanded its work with other states in India , possibly exporting some agro-food items for maximising revenues.
I see myself as an angel investor and mentor to women and social entrepreneurs. I would like to build an organic family with kids.
Q) What do you do for fun?
Love watching movies and theatre. Enjoy making jams, jellies and feeding all my friends, food, cooked by me. Love writing poems and day-dreaming.