Towards Greater Gender Parity in Small Holder Dairy Farms in India

Animal Husbandry provides employment and economic support to most rural households, particularly those who do not have large pieces of land to engage in agricultural activity. Dairying as an occupation has played a major part in empowering women socially and economically. It has an even more pronounced relevance in poverty stricken, resource constrained areas in the South Asian region. Battling skewed gender equations, women bear the brunt of being farm hands, undertaking laborious tasks of cleaning, milking, arranging for fodder, rearing farm animals and participating in marketing products and yet not being compensated for their efforts. This unequal scenario needs to change as women’s role in the dairying and livestock sector gets recognised, appreciated and financially rewarded.

The context
Involvement of Indian women in national progress at multiple levels is an indisputable reality, although the degree of their involvement varies according to time and region. Women in India have played a critical role in livestock management, performing important tasks in addition to their responsibilities as home makers. Caring of animals is mostly viewed as an extension of the role of caregivers in South Asian countries such as India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, amongst others.

Women’s role in dairy farming includes a variety of activities from livestock rearing to milking, processing and even marketing in some places, although not all women control the sale of milk and its products. Studies in India show that despite women being intricately involved in management of the dairy farm, their role remains unrecognised as an economic activity, and they are relegated mostly to the background, providing a support role, without being credited at the professional or monetary front. They are usually part of a large invisible force that inspite of doing backbreaking work is still unpaid for its time and effort.

Issues of concern in the south asian region
Women’s contribution as dairy farmers often goes unrecognised due to the power structure and participation dynamics in financial decisions that are taken for the farm. Women participate in indoor feeding activities of animals by providing water, mixing rations and preparing feed for livestock. They even undertake animal health activities in indoor areas. While traditionally, it is in rural areas that these and other domestic activities are performed by female family members, even in mushrooming peri-urban settings that lie on fringes of urban cities, they continue to bear an unequal burden.

Dairy farming has increasingly become an important source of livelihood for urban and peri-urban dwellers. World over, this is seen as a labour intensive enterprise with women contributing highest labour to tasks that are performed daily in land preparation, planting forage, cleaning sheds, milking, herding, feeding, spraying, watering animals and also selling produce. This is more pronounced in countries in South Asia where gender roles are highly skewed. Further, there is general lack of gender specific data related to agriculture sector. Despite women playing key roles in small holder dairy farming, information on gender roles in dairy farming management, access and control over resources is lacking.

Globally, it has been seen that in places where women are part of groups (cooperatives, self help/micro credit groups), they have greater access and control over dairy farming enterprises, resources on dairy cattle and income generated through the same. They are also found to be in a better position to overcome traditional practices that otherwise restrict their participation in decisions related to dairy farming, amongst others.

Broadly, the issues faced by women in small holder dairy farms can be classified in three categories:
Socio-cultural issues: Women are engaged more in back breaking tasks of washing, feeding, fodder fetching etc. These are seen as gender roles that often come along with the tasks that have to be performed within the house anyway. Their participation in decision making activities, moreso those related to finances or to purchase of dairy related equipment is minimal. Research has shown that women rarely participate in decisions regarding sale of milk and milk products. It is also observed that even decisions like how much of the farm milk that needs to be utilised for family consumption are taken in consultation with husbands. The linkage of gender and decision making power has strong impact on the way women and their role in dairy farming is perceived, thereby impacting overall development.

Training & capacity building issues: In the South Asian region, livestock in small scale farms are often managed by women but technical training and inputs to animals like vaccines are usually targeted at men folk. While women engage in home-based or farm-based activities due to restrictions on mobility, men are seen to engage more in breeding, fodder production activities.
Only a few programmes from the side of the agencies specially focus on imparting training to women in the area of farm and dairy management. Such a gap has resulted in the focus remaining on men who engage in training on technology, animal care, fodder and food.

Men are the ones who will interact more with the outside agents of extension, health specialists for animals and sellers of production supplies. The problem lies both at the end of societal structures of women participation and gender roles, as much as it lies with the authorities responsible for the facilities and trainings in the domain of animal care. Due to this, despite them playing strong roles in the proper and smooth functioning of farms, their roles go unnoticed when it comes to understanding peri-urban small holdings.

Exposure to zoonotic infections: Since women are primarily engaged in the care of animals, they are often at the risk of infections and contracting diseases such as Brucellosis and Tuberculosis. Lack of awareness about these diseases and proper care of self, given their low interaction with health and extension specialists results in impact on the health of farm women.

The scenario in India
According to government data, 85% rural women in India are engaged in livestock production. Despite being major contributors in cattle and buffalo production, farm women are by and large unreached by the development, extension and training programmes of animal husbandry. Further, extension service work is mostly male dominated and hence farm women generally hesitate to discuss certain issues including reproduction related issues. Discussions with women milk cooperative members from across the country indicate that they prefer to interact with women extension workers for acquiring knowledge.

About 75 million women are engaged in dairying in India as compared to only 15 million men. Although women play a crucial role in livestock rearing their contribution is not adequately acknowledged and they remain invisible workers. In recent years, women have been playing an ever increasing role in livestock rearing owing to increasing male migration to urban areas for employment. Indeed, the Indian woman farmer has been credited with raising the country’s milk production levels to among the highest in the world.

While there is much ground to cover in empowering women in dairying, it is true that significant initiatives have been made in this direction, especially during the last couple of decades. Indian policy makers have been increasingly recognising the significant role of women in dairying and have begun designing programmes to provide capacity building and other types of support to them. The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) has been doing significant work in the area of extension and advisory services for all levels of personnel of milk unions. NDDB has also been striving to increase the participation of women in its training programmes. During 2012-13, out of a total of 5,077 participants, about 1,509 women participants attended NDDB’s training programmes, compared to only 772 women in the previous year. Many NGOs, too, are playing a key role, by organising women milk producers to form cooperatives.

Two specific programmes for women involved in dairying are:
• Support to Training and Employment Programme (STEP) for Women: Under this programme, exclusive women dairy cooperatives are formed to take up employment cum income generation activities. Women are also given appropriate training and are mobilized into Self Help Groups. The programme aims at strengthening the groups to be ultimately self-sustaining in the market place.

• Women’s Dairy Cooperative Leadership Programme (WDCLP) of NDDB: The WDCLP was launched twenty years ago as a pilot programme with the objective of strengthening the dairy cooperative movement by significantly increasing women’s participation as active members and as leaders in the governance of cooperative societies, unions and federations.

There have been few studies in India that have highlighted good practices to empower women in dairying. In Andhra Pradesh, members of Mulukanoor Women’s Cooperative Dairy Society, established in 2002, has been responsible for the complete management and governance of the enterprise with producers involved at all stages of the value chain. The enterprise continues to be a self-sufficient and self-managed women’s cooperative dairy. In Kerala, the Malabar Regional Cooperative Milk Producers Union provides a good example of extension activities provided by a milk union. The union has nearly 50,000 members; 158 technically trained personnel serve the members as extension workers. Reflecting its focus on women dairying, the union has a network of more than 90 women ‘promoters’.

What next?
Often regarded as the first livestock keepers, women’s contribution has remained underestimated, unrecorded and undervalued. In the context of South Asia and particularly India, this has been a widely accepted reality. It therefore becomes imperative to understand these dimensions and develop strategies which would help in mainstreaming these issues, finding unique and impactful ways of resolving them. They need to be both motivated and trained in scientific knowledge so as to increase livestock production. More focus on gender parity and a fair and equitable recognition of their contribution in social and financial terms is the need of the hour.

Available literature indicates that in India, both government and several NGOs have been making fair efforts to empower women involved in dairying. However, most initiatives cover rural areas only, and have largely focused on milk producer cooperatives and unions. There is need for policy makers, programme managers and relevant non-government entities to work on developing appropriate initiatives for peri-urban settings as well. Such efforts would gain from studying good practices in rural areas and considering ways to adapt some of these to peri-urban settings.

Specifically, women’s role in dairy farming can be improved by:
• Advocating for a change in gender roles in dairy management so as to minimise their work load
• Encouraging women to form dairy groups enhancing their participation in dairy farming for sustainable livestock agriculture
• Seeking avenues that help them realise their optimal performance, helping them seek financial and technical support from NGO’s, development partners and government agencies
• Create a policy climate that paves the way for gender empowerment and gender mainstreaming keeping in mind sustainable development of women small holder farmers
• Getting government agencies, NGOs and development partners to identify/support women’s roles as livestock owners, processors and users of livestock products while strengthening their decision-making power and capabilities

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