“I have collected milk from over 10 women livestock farmers since morning,  checked the fat content with the fat testing machine. Put the milk in the cold storage,” tells Priyanka Pasle, 35, widow, woman farmer who is just 10th pass, from Tirtha Budruk village in Osmanabad. She heads Tirtha village center of the dairy called Laxmi Center. The village collects 130 liters of milk from over 17-20 women farmers every day.

To empower women through entrepreneurship, Pune based NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), under Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission (UMED) scheme has started the all-women dairy enterprise in Marathwada called Lakshmi Centre.  The center currently functions 10 villages of Ausa in Latur and 10 villages of Tuljapur block of Osmanabad district of Maharashtra.

Ausa block dairy, which was stated in January 2020, collects over 1500 liters of milk from over 1000 women farmer. While Tuljapur block collects over 710 liters of milk from 250 farmers.

To manage dairy by looking after fat content, to look after cold storage when electricity is off has been challenging for Priyanka who us almost illiterate. “I would not understand how to check fat content, or manage cold storage. I have to be available to get milk that women offer throughout the day as per their timetable. I am now professional in these tasks,” Priyanka tells.

Priyanka, who was in financial and emotional crisis following death of her husband in 2012, started to work with SSP. She has worked for self-help groups, Arogya Sakhi, and later handling enterprises of women. Now she handles the dairy enterprise alone in the village. It is challenging to compete with other dairies run by male in highly patriarchal society of Marathwada.

Priyanka and other nine women from ten villages are successfully running the ten centers. “710 liters of milk collected from ten villages is packed and sold in over 500 households in Latur. Now we are in the process to start similar enterprises in Ausa in Latur and Kalamb in Washim district,” tells Tabbsum Momin, project director in Osmanabad.

How the journey started

“We surveyed 10 villages to understand which enterprise has the potential to grow. We realized that the villages in Tuljapur have extra milk production. Many dairies stopped operations due to lockdown. And hence we decided to start the dairy,” Shila Bhojane, mentor.

The team had a difficult experience to convince women to be members of all-women dairy for various reasons. “We have certain conditions like women would be paid online on the tenth day and no cash would be given. Generally, men give cattle milk to dairies and dairies generally pay in cash. Men either don’t pay money to women or pay partially. Though women put the effort into taking care of animals, milking, they hardly get paid for their efforts. Husbands had no problem giving milk to our dairy but they had a problem with online payment. They tried best to dissuade women from joining this dairy,” Shila tells.

SSP installed cold storage machines in ten villages, appointed ten women to run those centers. Other ten women look after accounting and dealing with women and their problems like illness of cattle, dealing with government officials.

The team had to postpone the launch due to the Covid19 pandemic and lockdown from March to September. Shila tells, “We had to struggle to enter villages to convince women to give their cattle milk to our dairy as villagers would not allow us to enter due to fear of Covid19. To arrange carpenters to out construct cold storage to store milk, to arrange vehicles to buy necessary stuff to start dairy was struggle due to lockdown. But we could manage well.”

SSP has availed masks, soaps to all women farmers. It has availed free veterinary doctors to treat cattle of women who give milk to the dairy.

SSP has been running five enterprises including dairy, selling fertiliser,  run by all women from villages in backward districts like Solapur, Osmanabad for over a year.

Women in livestock farming

Milk production in India is over 187.7 million tonnes per year as per the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). India produces over 18.5% of the world.

This signifies that dairying is a significant means of livelihood for millions of rural farmers. The rural women play a significant role in animal husbandry and are involved in practices like feeding, breeding, management, and health care.

They constitute 71 percent of the labor force in livestock farming. In India, about 75 million women are engaged as against 15 million men in dairying. A study conducted by Kacker (2006) also revealed that the majority (85 %) of persons engaged in dairy production are women, as per the research paper ‘Participation Appraisal of Women Farmers in Dairy Husbandry Practices in Indo Pak Border Area Punjab’ published in 2019.  However, almost all dairies are run by men.

Reshma Raut, a school dropout, mother of two, was not allowed to give 3-4 liters of milk of her cows to dairy as she is a woman. Reshma tells, “my husband has no time to give milk to dairies. I had to waste my time by making curd, ghee of extra milk we had. I could offer milk to the all-women dairy as my husband does not have a problem with I am vising this dairy. Initially, he had reservations but after seeing other women giving their cattle milk to dairies, he has given permission.” She has now over Rs 6000 in her bank account and she hasn’t withdrawn it.

Lakshmi Mane, a marginal farmer with two buffalos, has started to give her 5-6 liters of cattle milk to Laxmi Center from day one. Lakshmi tells, “I could earn over Rs 10000 in two months. I could get a loan from SSP based on my performance and now I bought one more buffalo.”

 Lakshmi’s marginal farm does not have irrigation and animal husbandry is her main source of income. Seven women dairy farmers have taken loans to buy cattle to increase milk production till now.

This is the second all-women dairy in Maharashtra following one being run in Maval block of Pune district. However Maval dairy is struggling to survive due to pandemic.

“Marathwada is backward, drought-affected region of Maharashtra, and farming depends on rainfall. Thus livestock farming is important source of income in this area.  Women put efforts in livestock farming but hardly get money. This dairy is empowering women by availing money in their hands and teaching skills how to run business,” said Gorkshnath Bhangra, UMED, Osmanabad.

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