Dairy farming is a major income source for small, marginal, and landless farmers. It has been instrumental in augmenting their status of living beyond the farm gate. However, dairying demands continuous care for the cattle, the onus of which falls mostly on women of the household.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) note on dairy production, women traditionally have an important role in milk production, especially feeding and milking cattle. Although much of their work is unrecognized and non-monetized, they often decide on the quantity of milk to be sold and how the revenue from milk sales is utilized.
The formation of dairy cooperatives has played a significant role in contributing to women’s economic empowerment. As per a 2018 report by the National Cooperative Union of India, 4.85 million women members contribute to 30% of the total membership in cooperative societies.
In Gujarat alone, out of 34.94 lakh milk producer members, 12.5 lakh members are women and constitute around 36% of the total membership. Their membership with the milk cooperative societies has corresponded to recognition of their work. And the remuneration received from milk sales has made them independent decision-makers.
Women’s dairy cooperative
Sharada Patel, a resident of Motipura village of Kapadvanj taluk in Kheda district, is a dairy farmer. She is one of the 400 female dairy farmer members in her village, of whom 145 are active milk pourers at the Motipura Mahila Dairy Cooperative Society.
The dairy cooperative society (DCS), which is exclusively run by women, started with pouring of around 400 liters of milk daily in 2006. Now the Motipura Mahila DCS pours about 10,000 liters of milk every day and had an annual turnover of Rs 24 crore in the year 2019.
Dairying, which was pursued as an alternative to agriculture, has now become a full-fledged household business, especially for women. Every dairy household of Motipura has a minimum of 10 cattle. Success and failure are distributed among the milk pourers of the DCS.
Furthermore, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) provided subsidies worth Rs 1 crore to women farmers for purchasing cattle. The financial support improved the DCS members’ milk pouring capacity.
On par with men
Sharada Patel also serves as a member of the board of directors of Kaira District Milk Union, an apex organization of dairy cooperatives in Gujarat and also known as Amul. She plays a major role in the upliftment of women.
“In our village, women are empowered. They actively participate in the governance and functioning of the cooperative and engage in monthly meetings, voice their opinions and also seek redressal for their grievances on equal terms with men,” said Sharada Patel.
Sita Parmar, a dairy farmer in Moraj village of Tarapur taluk in Anand district, is a newly elected member of the board of the Kaira Union. She is part of the managing body of the cooperative society of nine male members and another woman member besides her.
Moraj Dairy Cooperative Society was started about 30 years ago with 15 members. Presently there are nearly 100 milk pouring members. The members who poured about 800 liters of milk per day then, now pour around 5,000 liters of milk daily. The profits of the earnings are distributed amongst members, with an average of 20% bonus annually.
Sita Parmar, who takes care of the financial aspects of her own dairy business, said that the business has made her financially sound. She employs many workers to take care of the growing number of cattle, thus providing them with a stable livelihood.
Gayatri Patel of Ajarpura village in Anand district started the dairy business with five calves in the year 2016. Presently she and her husband own 75 cattle. Their dairy farm sees a turnover of around Rs 34 lakhs per annum.
Having women in the governing bodies has a ripple effect, as they serve as role models. Sharada Patel encourages several women to engage in the dairy business and become active milk pourers of the Motipura Mahila DCS.
Sita Parmar, along with her husband, who is the chairman of the Moraj DCS, has taken initiatives to establish women cooperative societies to improve the participation of women in dairy farming. Now Tarapur taluk under which Moraj falls, has seven new women cooperative societies out of a total of 45.
As recounted by Gayatri Patel, at the initial stage, they carried out all tasks such as cleaning the shed, tending to cattle, cutting fodder grass, etc., alongside childcare, and performing family duties. Despite its productive work, the women were silent input providers and considered this work as part of their routine.
But now they take major economic decisions. “Being a member of the cooperative society has enabled me to take independent financial decisions. Furthermore, dairy farming has made many people working in my farm self-reliant,” said Gayatri Patel.
They feel important and that their work is being recognized when the money gets credited in their bank accounts every 10 days. Involvement in the dairy business has enabled them to become financially independent and self-driven micro-entrepreneurs
Shweta Krishnan, Ankit Sontakke and Pankaj Parmar are research fellows at Institute of Rural Management, Anand. Views are personal.