Amid Covid odds, the milk of human kindness

| | New Delhi
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Amid Covid odds, the milk of human kindness

Tuesday, 23 February 2021 | Archana Jyoti | New Delhi

When the entire nation went into the Covid-induced lockdown since March 2020, adversely impacting the economy, Telangana-based Mulukanoor Women’s Cooperative Dairy (MWCD) walked an extra mile: it continued procuring milk from its not-so privileged women members in rural belt to ensure that they do not feel the pinch of the pandemic.

It was not an easy task, though. Not only the family members of the over 24,000 women members of the MWCD were to be convinced to continue supplying milk to the cooperative at their collection centres, but also the reluctant transporters who refused to carry milk from procurement points to the processing plant, citing safety issues.

However, where there is a will there's a way. Notwithstanding the Covid-posed challenges, Vijaya Gurrala and Bhaskara Reddy Marpati, President and General Manager of the MWCD respectively along with other Board members worked day and night on strategies and took a courageous decision to continue safe collection, processing, and distribution during the Covid-19 crisis.

“We conducted an awareness programme along with doctors to convince the family members about Coronavirus and safety measures,” said Gurrala (50). She added, “After discussion, we decided to sanitise all the vehicles bringing milk to the processing plant; and we organised awareness programmes amongst staff as well as members for ensuring smooth procurement and distribution of milk products.”

The efforts paid off. The MWCD, which has 182 women dairy cooperatives and boasts a band of 23,000 women milk producers, reported sound financial performance during FY 2019-20 with a turnover of Rs 115 crore.

“This year we will reach Rs 130-crore mark,” chipped in Reddy. He knows better. The milk and various dairy products (marketed under the brand name Swakrushi) are now well in demand. The  MWCD which was incepted in 2002 is currently procuring around 70,000 litres of milk per day (yearly average of 54,000 litres) from its members in the 30 km radius of its headquarters at Warangal urban district and has been registering a steady growth, transforming the life of the poor women of the region, pulling them out of poverty. Today, it processes 1 lakh litres of milk every day.

Presently, it caters to customers from Karimnagar, Warangal, Adilabad, Medak, Hyderabad, Jangaon and Siddipet, mostly from North Telangana region. Most of the members of MWCD are predominantly small holder dairy producers, from BPL category.

Over the years, the average income of the members with 2 milch animals has risen up to Rs. 6,000-10,000 per month, while those having around 20 cattle are taking home on an average around Rs 50,000 monthly. Money is transferred directly to their respective bank accounts, shared Reddy who has been associated with the MWCD since its inception.

The day-to-day affairs of the MWCD is run by its president (this role is same as a CEO in a company) and a 12-member Board of Directors (BoD), who are women and elected by the members to represent them.

This cooperative allows women dairy farmers to run everything themselves --  from collecting and processing milk to marketing it and other dairy products.

In fact, Gurrala’s elevation to the post of President of the MWCD speaks volumes of empowerment that such cooperatives can bring in the life of many small farmers like her. As the President of the organisation since 2017, she has played a pivotal role in empowering women in her region. Right from her initial days in the MWCD, she inculcated the sense of ownership in her. No doubt, coming from such a background she knows that it’s the women members who have ensured quality of milk and customer loyalty.

 “Women are generally very conscious, careful in the way they rear their cattle. They look into every minute details right from cleaning the vessel before milking to closing the lid of the vessel properly. On the other hand, most of the men are not micro managers and are reluctant to maintain these small things,” she said as she shared her plans to rope in educated young women into the MWCD Board so that they remain competent, grow and share profits among the owners of the dairy.

Sundeep Kumar Nayak, Managing Director of the National Cooperative Development Cooperation (NCDC), which provided financial support to the dairy in 2010, said, “The MWCD is a successful model of an all-women dairy cooperative, and actually meeting the objective of empowering women and providing them financial security, which in general is the ultimate vision of the NCDC.

“This also helps them improving household nutrition, investment in other activities like children’s education,” he further said.

In fact, today, MWCD’s success story has become a symbol of women empowerment. Researchers and social institutes like Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) cite its example in their presentations and webinars urging others in the sector to replicate its marketing strategies, innovations and ways to beat competitors.

Researchers Aditya Raj and Pramil K. Panda from Xavier Institute of Social Service during their presentation at a national seminar on “Agricultural Transformation and Rural Development in India: Issues, Challenges and Possibilities” at Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Uttarakhand said, “Apart from contributing to the economic significance of farm household, dairy also leverages the participation and empowerment of rural women.”

Similarly, agriculture expert Kishan Rao Pongagoti too has penned down a book “Marketing of Milk and Milk Products: A Select Study of Mulkanoor Women’s Cooperative Dairy”, arguing that how dairying can serve as one of the more effective instruments to attain inclusiveness and growth, and in holistic development of any society.

The MWCD has to its credit among many others, two prestigious awards from the NCDC and NDDB for its extraordinary achievement in the sector.

Buoyed by encouraging performance, there’s no stopping for the MWCD from thinking big. It has imported blast chillers, incubators and chillers from Germany in 2018 and is planning to expand the capacity to one lakh litre milk plant besides producing value-added products such as flavoured milk, Mysorepak and some other by-products which have huge demand in the region.

Women members too know that apart from earnings from milk, there are various other benefits of being part of the MWCD. For instance, veterinarian is just a call away, insurance for animals is available,  cattle feed is made available at factory prices; and one can avail interest-free loans from the cooperative. Time to raise a toast for this women-oriented initiative, with a glassful of milk!

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