AWE alumna’s winery brings economic growth to rural India

Tage Rita holding up glass of wine (© Sunny Chetry)
Tage Rita tests the quality of her wine, made from kiwi fruit from India's Ziro Valley. (© Sunny Chetry)

Tage Rita’s wine business, Naara Aaba, is restoring prosperity to India’s remote Ziro Valley — one bottle at a time.

The valley, in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, has long been known for its organic kiwi fruit. Yet the region’s isolation creates transportation challenges that harm the farming business and cause thousands of kiwis to go to waste.

“I saw so much abundance and productivity with fruit and other agricultural products, but there was no market linkage,” said Rita, whose family and neighbors rely on the valley’s fertile land. “Farmers could not benefit. I saw the same story repeated for more than 30 years.”

So Rita, an agricultural engineer, developed a method for turning overripe kiwis into wine. She named her wine Naara Aaba, as her late father-in-law was called. The wine from fermented kiwi can be bottled, transported and sold across India, a solution that reduces crop waste and is economically efficient.

Tage Rita and another woman sitting next to pile of kiwi fruit (© Sunny Chetry)
Rita (right) inspects fruit on her kiwi farm. (© Sunny Chetry)

“Even the smallest of the fruit can be used in a winery,” says Rita, an alumna of the U.S. Department of State’s Academy for Women’s Entrepreneurs (AWE). Since 2019, the academy has empowered more than 16,000 women in 80 countries with the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch and scale successful businesses.

AWE has operated in India since 2020, training nearly 600 women like Rita to grow businesses that benefit their communities.

Rita launched Naara Aaba with a feeling of “excitement and fire.” Yet, she quickly realized her lack of business training, particularly in financial literacy, held her back. She credits AWE’s three-month training program with giving her practical knowledge in finance and product pricing. “I needed so much professional help, support and mentoring,” Rita says. “I was eager to learn and am so grateful for this program.”

Her newly learned marketing skills helped make Naara Aaba more popular and profitable. And the company’s growth benefits the Ziro Valley community. Naara Aaba buys from local producers, supporting more than 300 farmers and their families. The company also trains and employs women and at-risk youth.

Tage Rita and Ram Nath Kovind holding award and posing for photo (Courtesy of Tage Rita)
India’s President Ram Nath Kovind presents Rita an award March 8 celebrating her outstanding contributions to society. (Courtesy of Tage Rita)

Rita’s progress in revitalizing the Ziro Valley earned national attention. On March 8, during India’s Women’s Day celebrations, she was among the 30 recipients of the Nari Shakti Puraskar, an award for women working as catalysts for positive change in society.

India’s President Ram Nath Kovind presented her the award for her work supporting women’s entrepreneurship and promoting local Indian-made products on international markets.

Rita expects to further expand Naara Aaba and use it to launch wine-based tourism and bring more people to the Ziro Valley.

With her determination to succeed — and AWE training — Rita is excited for the future of her business. She encourages other female entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.

“I never imagined that I would receive recognition from the president of India,” she says. “If you have an idea and you want to do something on your own, you should not restrict yourself.”

This article was written by freelance writer Allie Dalola.