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Cattle classy

The women-led milk producer companies are enhancing their dairy income with better feed, fertility boosters and health-focused services

Time was when Gyani Devi’s single cow was more of a financial burden than an investment. The animal would produce four-five litres of milk daily, output that left little for sale after taking care of the family’s needs. A 45-year-old woman farmer from Chanana village in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district, Ms Devi had hoped the income generated from the cow would add to her earnings from agriculture, but her family continued to struggle to make ends meet.

Life changed for the better in 2019 when Ms Devi joined the Sakhi Milk Producer Company, promoted by the Dairy Health and Nutrition Initiative India (DHANII) Foundation, which was established in 2016 by the Tata Trusts in partnership with NDDB Dairy Services, a subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board.

The Sakhi MPC’s backing for the women dairy farmers covers a gamut of aspects, including animal healthcare provisions, feed, insemination, health checkups and breeding advisories. “Sakhi has helped me understand why it’s important to improve the health of my cows so that they provide more milk,” says Ms Devi, now the proud owner of 20 cows that, together, give her at least 270 litres of milk every day. With milk production as her primary source of income, Ms Devi and her family earn more than 200,000 every month.

Urmila Saroj, a resident of Kapa Madhupur village in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh district, is a member of, and point person for, the Uttar Pradesh-based Shwetdhara MPC
Urmila Saroj, a resident of Kapa Madhupur village in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh district, is a member of, and point person for, the Uttar Pradesh-based Shwetdhara MPC

Encouraging the breeding of healthier cows is one of the ways that DHANII works to make dairy farming profitable and sustainable for its MPC members. The MPCs have played a pivotal role in helping marginalised farmers improve milk productivity and their livelihood prospects.

“Apart from providing assured markets to dairy farmers, the focus by MPCs on productivity enhancement services (PES) is crucial in building capacity and knowledge of animal health, animal nutrition and breed improvement,” says Baljinder Singh Saini, head of operations at DHANII.

Feed and fodder solutions are key components in the PES basket. MPCs provide services like ration balancing with high-quality cattle feed and mineral mixtures along with silage and fodder. The added nutrition helps improve cattle health. Nearly 68,000 cattle have been covered under the ration-balancing programme, 94,000-plus have been artificially inseminated and about 28,000 have been tested in infertility camps till March 2023 by Sakhi MPC alone.

Support services

Veterinary support is another area of importance. Farmers get the benefit of regular infertility camps, where they get diagnosis and treatment for their cattle. The MPCs also offer quality breeding services — artificial insemination, infertility treatment, breed improvement, etc — at the farmers’ doorstep, saving them expenses on transportation. Easy access to treatments for mastitis and deworming goes a long way in enabling MPC members to keep their animals in the pink of health.

There are support solutions for MPC members as well. One of rural India’s challenges has been financial inclusion and the MPCs have stepped up to partner with banks and similar institutions to offer their members better access to loans for dairy-related activities.

While the need for animal husbandry services seems evident, it took time for the MPCs to convince owners to learn about and invest in their animals’ well-being. For instance, farmers had doubts about whether ration balancing was good for their cows and buffaloes. There were also apprehensions about artificial insemination.

To counter these the MPCs have launched training programmes on best practices in animal husbandry, hygiene and quality. There are regular interactions between veterinary staff and the farmers to answer questions and dispel doubts.

In the beginning, the farmers found such training programmes and meetings unfamiliar terrain. That has changed. Pranjali Lanjekar, a member of the Indujaa MPC in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, talks about how the sessions helped her: “The doctors give us information on the type of animal feed, the amount of mineral mixture and fodder to use, deworming of animals and how to identify if cattle are sick and distressed. Additionally, medicines are available at a subsidised rate.”

Manjit Kaur and Sarbjit Kaur, residents of Rampur Mander village in Punjab’s Mansa district, are members of the Ruhaanii MPC

The vets are vital

A large part of the success of the animal husbandry project can be attributed to the para-vets and veterinary staff who engage with the farmers. The MPCs have concentrated on getting people with the right skills, individuals with degrees or diplomas in veterinary sciences. The recruitment process is rigorous, involving a written test and an interview.

The real win for the MPCs is the visible success of the dairy farmers, which encourages others in the community to join in and become members. “I want to grow my business and build a spacious shed for my animals, where they can eat in plenty and live a healthy life,” says Ms Lanjekar. That will likely happen sooner than later.

Wealth in well-being

Wealth in well-being

Nita Shriram Elpate (above) ventured into the dairy farming business with a single buffalo that yielded about 5 litres of milk every day. A resident of Kharbi Udapur village in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district, she would sell 2 litres of this milk to a nearby dairy and save the rest for family use. Selling just 2 litres was never going to be enough, what with the money spent on animal feed and travel expenses. A real profit was nowhere to be had.

In 2022, Ms Elpate became part of the Indujaa Milk Producer Company in her village and it was a turning point. On joining she received one buffalo, enough to increase her milk yield and income significantly. Soon Ms Elpate was able to add two more buffaloes to her farm and her business got a further boost after she received training in animal healthcare.

“The training sessions gave us invaluable insights about the intricacies of acquiring and maintaining a high-quality buffalo,” she says. “We understood how to assess the animal’s age, evaluate its health and identify signs of pregnancy and ill health. We also learned about animal feed, mineral mixtures and deworming.”

Ms Elpate can now avail the services of veterinarians and para- veterinarians at her doorstep. “When we find that an animal is sick, we call the doctors; easy access to these services, and at nominal costs, has saved us a lot of money,” she says.

The steady growth in income has added to Ms Elpate’s interest in expanding her dairy business. “It has motivated me to take better care of my animals and feed them the right way,” she says, “I’m sure they will give me more milk in the days ahead.”