Change the Lens that Views Women in Dairy Farming

Women’s role in dairy farming, especially in peri urban settings, is comparable across the spectrum of developing nations. However, there are few countries where women are running a more flourishing poultry and dairy enterprise. In fact, some are even supported by donor agencies who help fund specific projects that build their capacity and provide them resources to make their businesses more profitable, empowering them in the process. Yet, fact remains that women in the peri urban dairy and poultry business are mostly marginalised, ignorant, over worked and not suitably compensated.

As part of the PERIMILK study, undertaken by PHFI/RCZI-ILRI, the research team visited select peri urban dairy farms in Udaipur, Bhubaneshwar and Guwahati. A common thread that ran through their interactions was that women were rarely in a position of authority, unless it was a matrifocal household with no male members, and she had inherited the family business of dairy farming. Women were mostly found in support roles, seen but not heard, and most certainly not invited to participate in key decisions, such as, where to buy cattle from, where and how to sell the milk that was collected and/or pooled, what to do with the income and when to call a vet in case of a medical condition. They were not financially compensated for the extra work and tasks related to cleaning of pens, feeding cattle and ensuring hygiene standards was added to their other domestic tasks and even though this was a commercial activity, it did not translate in their being paid for it.

Hills vs Plains: Patterns of work distribution amongst men and women
In another study on “Gender participation in integrated farming system in Tripura, India” , two districts – one from plain region (West Tripura) and another from hilly region (Unakoti) were selected randomly. The study found that cleaning of animal and animal sheds in both plains and hills was done completely by women or jointly. Taking animals for grazing was done mostly by men in the plains (60%) while in the hills, it was done largely by women (54%). Feeding of animals and offering them water was done mostly by women in both settings. Milking the animal was mostly done in same proportion by men and women. Detection of heat was done by women though proportion varied with more detection cases found in the plains (82%) than hills (78%). However, taking the animal for AI service was done largely by men in both settings, moreso in plains (58%) as compared to hills (22%). Purchase and sale of milk was done completely by men in the plains and hills. While in both settings men were more visible in the “outdoor” and money related tasks with women taking up laborious indoor work, when it came to decision making, women in the hills had marginally a higher record than women in the plains.

Lessons from elsewhere
There have been some examples of empowering women dairy farmers through training and capacity building. While some have been part of a larger project, there have been others that have attempted to enhance women’s economic resources.

The African Chicken Genetic Gains (ACGG) project (2014-19), funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to reduce poverty, raise productivity, increase consumption of animal protein in poor households and empower rural women in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania. Employing latest technologies in ‘new genetics’, the multidisciplinary and multi-institutional project team is working with national experts and partners to improve Africa’s local breeds—with the aim of producing pre-vaccinated, high-producing birds, with low-feed requirements and well-suited to local conditions—and to expedite their delivery to people who need them most. The project plans to leverage existing research and innovative approaches to develop and supply improved chicken genetics for the poultry value chains. Amongst other things, it will generate evidence of increased empowerment of women smallholder farmers in chicken value chains.

In Tanzania , more than 2,400 smallholder farmers will grow their businesses, strengthen food security and create employment in the local economy as part of the ACGG project. According to ILRI, 70% of smallholder chicken producers in Africa are women, so the decision to target them was straightforward: “they are best-placed to help transform the local chicken value chain.” The project is working with universities, smallholder chicken producers, research centres, NGOs, government agencies, including the Tanzania Livestock Research Institute (TALIRI) and Sokoine University of Agriculture. ACGG plans to identify and cross-breed high producing exotic chickens with local breeds.

Working closely with smallholder farmers, particularly women, ACGG partners will also focus on informing and involving government officials at all levels about the project. Plans are on the anvil to consider working with women groups and using tools like illustrated booklets on poultry husbandry and to distribute these strategically at churches, clinics and other public places frequented by them and over the radio and television.

In Andhra Pradesh, India, a unique integrated livelihood project was initiated by Adarsh Mahila Mandal Samakhya, a cooperative and collective activity that brings together self help groups in Mehboobnagar district. Launched in the late 1990s, today it has its own Mahila bank, bulk milk cooling unit, restaurant and handloom shop. Plans are afoot to increase milk procurement to 5000 litres to fill the capacity of the cooling unit. This will then be distributed to around 15 adjoining villages. Training them as trainers for new inductees has seen the movement grow into a sustainable and rewarding model that has upgraded quality of lives of scores of families in each of these village settings.

Investing in women dairy farmers has economic and social benefits
More such initiatives are needed, especially with women poultry and dairy farmers in marginalised settings like peri urban areas. To make women dairy farmers more independent, awareness and training is key. While most understand the business, they have limited exposure to market dynamics and healthy farm practices, being unable to make the connect with zoonoses. There are no benchmarks and comparisons. Living in peri urban settings, their interaction with rest of the world is limited.

Dedicated awareness drives and/or training and capacity building workshops that can expose them to nuances of healthy dairy farming, sensitising men-folk to help them recognise and reward women’s labour must be taken up in a planned manner. Drawing from available studies, strategies can vary depending on whether the female dairy farmer is located in a rural, peri urban, hilly or plain setting.

Asian Journal of Dairy and Food Research. 34(1):2015;59-62 by Paul P, Meena BS, Singh A, Wani SA.

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