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COVID-19 Resilience

Women dairy farmers ensure safe delivery of milk during lockdown

Adopting safety measures during coronavirus scare, women dairy farmers ensure supply of milk to consumers, while protecting the livelihood and economic interests of its member farmers

Amidst national lockdown in the country to contain the spread of coronavirus, most of the activities in cities and towns have come to a standstill. in these times of unprecedented crisis, one stellar example among many positive forces is that of women dairy farmers who have refused to bow down to the crisis.  

The gritty women farmers of Maval Dairy Farmers Services Produce Company limited in Maval village near Talegaon in Pune District continue to procure, process and supply milk, one of the essential services that is needed by one and all in urban centers.

Maval Dairy is not only continuing its operations in ensuring milk processing and its distribution in Pune district remains uninterrupted, but has also taken immediate measures to ensure safety for everyone involved in the supply chain, as well as its customers.

Maval Dairy

The efforts that went into building this dairy is helping it responding proactively to this crisis. Maval Dairy Farmer Services Producer Company was established for the community around Maval village of Pune District, Maharashtra,  to strengthen their livelihood.

The file photo shows the women-led dairy benefitting women dairy farmers, who ensure supply of the essential product during this crisis (Photo courtesy Krishnagopal, ALC )

Back in 2016, during the formative years of Maval Dairy, it was part of Dairy A Farmers’ Group (DAFG), a collective of dairy farmers. Presently Access Livelihoods Consulting India Limited (ALC), a non-governmental organization, and the CSR wing of Tata Power support the dairy.

“Initially, the collectives received support through feed for animals, loan services for animals,” Krishnagopal, Chief Executive Officer of ALC, told VillageSquare.in. “Call centers were set up to answer queries related to animal health.”

For and by women

Since there were very few active milk collection centers in neighboring villages, the community felt the need for its own dairy. The primary focus was to involve women who have been involved in animal husbandry.  

Maval Dairy is India’s second and Maharashtra’s first women-led dairy. With representation from more than 20 villages, it has over 1,475 shareholders, and 630 of them supply milk. ALC played a crucial role in  training for compliances needs, and also in identifying and recruiting of professionals.

Maval Dairy has created its market space in and around Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Khopoli, Lonavala and other local markets nearby. It has a processing plant in Maval, with a capacity to process 10,000 liters of milk. There are 18 collection centers located between two villages for easy and quick access of the farmers.

The income from the dairy not only supplements the income of women dairy farmers, but ensures a steady and enhanced income. Because the women who used to sell milk at Rs 18 per liter to local vendors were able to sell the same to Maval Dairy at Rs 32 per liter.

Supply chain disruption during lockdown

Milk is one of the basic necessities that the central government has included in the list of essential services. The national lockdown has undoubtedly affected the normal cycles of supply of milk to the cities. But more important is also its severe impact on thousands of dairy farmers across the country for whom dairying has been an integral part of their livelihood.

Dairying provides a regular cash flow to thousands of small, medium and large farmers thanks to the nationwide network created during Operation Flood and hundreds of cooperative and private sector players in the country. All this has been affected by the present crisis.

Transportation of collected milk has also been a huge concern because in normal times, thousands of liters of milk are transported seamlessly by milk tankers across all parts of the country, without anybody noticing it, often at evening and night time.

Uninterrupted operations during lockdown

In cities, the distribution network and system is impacted as distribution is limited as well as  timed, the basic essentials are also troubled with its processing volume, time and associated staff.

Even though milk and its by-products like curd and buttermilk are among the essentials, the collection centers near Maval village stopped collecting milk. But observing the increasing cash flow disruption of the dairy farmers, the women-led Maval Dairy decided to continue its support to its members.

Now the onus is in ensuring that the dairy continues to function as its functioning is critical for its 1,500 members. While the other dairies in the region have stopped collecting milk from their producer members, Maval Dairy has taken a courageous decision to continue its safe collection, processing and distribution with all the necessary precautions.

Impact of lock down

Owing to current exigencies, the market rate for milk price has fallen. The price is reduced to some extent, but the collection has continued to safeguard the interest of all the milk pouring members. In fact, the payment disbursement is done in advance.

“In the current situation, when all other businesses are suddenly at halt, members are dependent on Dairy sales, several of the members have even taken loans and cash flow is also disrupted for the farmers,” said  Krishnagopal, sharing the experiences of current dialogues with the community members.

Due to the thin scope of selling in established market places, the dairy has opted for bulk sales locally.  As a supporting agency ALC has been actively involved in connecting the Dairy with local vendors.

The file image shows women measuring the fat content of the milk delivered at the collection center ( Photo courtesy Krishnagopal, ALC)

Though with the reduced procurement from 6,000 to 3,000 liters a day, increased bulk milk sale that too with advance payment has helped improving the cash flows and ensures that the marketing and sales team is not exposed to unnecessary risk.

Safe procurement and distribution

Owing to the outbreak, Maval Dairy has taken precautions at employee level and at farmers’ level. They are diligently following the distancing in collection queue. Masks, gloves and sanitizers have been distributed to all centers to be used by everyone involved in the collection, processing and supply.

While planning on the operations to be carried out during lockdown, meetings involving a handful of people were conducted. They were given instructions on the safety measures to be followed. They were made aware of the basics of the disease, to not only keep themselves informed but also to clarify the apprehensions of consumers while delivering milk.  

“The safety meetings were conducted for the entire staff right from the procurement members, women who test milk, in addition to the secretary and members working in the plant and others  in sales,” Lakshmi Bhagvanrao Mhatre, Chief General Manager of Maval Dairy, told VillageSquare.in. “There were also counseling meetings to answer the concerns of members.”

Positive Approach

When several companies are introducing salary cut or laying off employees in the informal sector during the lockdown, Maval Dairy has introduced a positive change by offering Hardship Allowances for the volunteers who are working hard, ensuring safe procurement, distribution and overall functioning of the dairy.

Drawn from the shareholder member pool, the volunteers are generally not involved in the day-to-day activities of the dairy. But with many unwilling to be involved now because of COVID-19, the shareholder members came forward to ensure the functioning of the dairy. 

“The volunteers are receiving 30% of their salary as Hardship Allowance; this way the employment is continued in rotation, since the number of staff who work very day had to be reduced due to the need and implementation of safety measures,” said Mhatre.

Palak Gosai is a researcher at VikasAnvesh Foundation, Pune.  Views are personal.

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