Getting back to the roots, literally

From leading a global communications agency to turning an organic farmer

After being a Marketing Communications professional for over 25 years, Kavita Rao recently turned an Organic Farmer Entrepreneur. As the President & CEO of one of the leading global public relations and public affairs agencies, Hill+Knowlton Strategies – India, her core expertise lay in corporate brand reputation management, crisis and issues management, with extensive experience in building external and internal communication outreach programs customized to varying audiences.

In early 2019, she decided to move from the corporate world to pursue her passion & dream of becoming a farmer and the result was Bougainvillea Organic Farms.  A delightful 10-acre patch of green where she grows a wide variety of chemical and pesticide free organic fruits, vegetables and cereals such as mangoes, papayas, pomegranates, mulberries, guavas, jamuns, custard apple (sitaphal), coconuts all seasonal vegetables, rice, legumes and corn.

With a dream to create a sustainable venture which provides healthy food, employment and livelihood to everyone connected with it, Kavita Rao took time to respond to questions from AsiaBizToday on her dreams and experiences.

What the farm is all about
Our farm is what is called an integrated farm as we grow fruits, cereals and vegetables.  So all typical farming activities take place – tilling the land, de weeding, enriching the soil with nutrients, sowing, maintaining, harvesting and then selling our produce. The farm is jointly managed by my parents and myself with the help of our passionate farm workers.  Its hard work and it’s a dawn to dusk job.  When I decided that I would be giving it my 100%, we all decided that each one of us would focus on a few areas that we all agreed we were good at and therefore my Dad takes care of production, Mum takes care of finance & operations and I am responsible for the business development, sales & marketing.  It seems to be settling in well.

Your trigger and motivation to get into this
Curiosity!  That’s been the driving factor my entire life – I’m curious as a person.  I want to learn new things and to challenge myself if I can succeed or fail in something new. I had been living away from my family and frankly I was bored of the corporate life – everyday seems to be a repeat.  The learning had slowed, and I wasn’t inspired or challenged anymore.  Health was also another reason that I wanted to move out of Delhi (where I was living) and the corporate world and get into something that was into overall well-being.  And what better than Organic farming. I come from a family of farmers and estate owners and my parents have helped us develop a love for farming and I have always loved gardening, so it was a natural choice.

 Your experiences and learnings in the leadership position
My skills from my previous profession, was not transferable to being a Farmer!  It was a hard coming down to earth for me!  For starters, it was very tough! Farming is certainly not for the faint hearted or for people who expect to make any kind of money : ) It’s the most unpredictable business there is! First there were no rains, then there was wayyyyy too much rains (recording the highest rainfall in over 100 years!). So, crops dried up, planting gets delayed, rains wash out crops, insects and bugs infestation….gosh! I was seeing all my savings wash away. And then just when I thought it was getting too much to handle, I was sat down and given a tough lesson in farming by Dad & Mum.  Seems I couldn’t apply what I had learnt (Strategy, Finance, Resource planning, production management, supply chain, etc. etc.) with all my years of working, because it doesn’t work in farming!  So, to cut a long story short and after interesting discussions, lots of turmoil and some meditation lessons for me, we all decided that each one of us would focus on a few areas that we all agreed we were good at and that seems to be settling well.

Important factors that keep you going
That I am contributing in whichever small way to make the world healthier, happier and more sustainable.  That I am learning and challenging myself every single day.  That I have learnt once again to appreciate the small joys in life. It is the most satisfying feeling to know that you are capable of feeding your family and loved ones with what you have grown. Everyday is challenging – vagaries of the weather, resource and fund management, people management AND most of the produce is perishable! So! much better than powerpoint presentations and meetings after meetings!  This was out in the open, fresh air and real life!

So! If you are contemplating trying your hand at farming and especially organic, be passionate, be resilient and make sure you have an income that’s going to pay for everything accept the food that you hopefully will grow. This is a tough business! But I also have to say that it’s after reaching this age and achieving some level of financial security, I have realised that the only professions worth pursuing are if you can feed, teach, heal or love. “People say walking on water is a miracle, but to me walking peacefully on earth is the real miracle” – Thich Nhat Hanh 

Any obstacles in your initiatives or specific challenges because of being a woman
I wouldn’t call them obstacles but challenges and yes I have faced many.  Firstly, farming is generally considered a man’s profession, so no one takes you seriously especially if you have been in the Corporate world, they don’t feel that you are serious about it and its merely a hobby for a few months.  So from the family who felt that I was merely dabbling in this for a few months till I accepted my next corporate assignment, to the farm workers with who I had a language problem, to the people I tried to sell to, who all tried to give me the worst rate in the market.  I have faced it all!

Your source of inspiration
Sports & Sportspeople!  Being a sportsperson all my life, I tend to go back to sports whenever I am challenged about anything.  Sports teaches you how to tackle every challenge in life.

Proudest moment so far
When we (Bougainvillea Organic Farms) were onboarded as one of the farms for 24 Mantra Organic (https://www.24mantra.com/) which is a pioneer in organic foods and India’s largest organic foods brand.  We currently supply fruits and vegetables and we hope to expand to other products with the support of the very dynamic team of 24 Mantra Organic. We are thrilled and for my parents and me, it’s a validation for the organic farming journey and like a dream come true.

Your definition of success
When you feel a sense of achievement on meeting the milestones you have set for yourself.  In this case, it was a create a sustainable way of life I have realised that the only professions worth pursuing are if you can feed, teach, heal or love. “People say walking on water is a miracle, but to me walking peacefully on earth is the real miracle” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Words of wisdom for aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women
Be relentlessly curious all your life, pursue your dream but be aware that it will not be easy at all. Know that there is no right time and you will face innumerable challenges and its only your passion & self-belief that sees you through.  Be prepared for self-doubt and insecurities and be prepared for people not taking you seriously.  But believe me nothing is more satisfying than when the tide turns.