This blog tells the story behind the Maitree Dairy, a women's collective that is transforming lives in Tonk, Rajasthan.
With the support and guidance of our partner organization, SRIJAN, local women have broken with tradition and tackled inequality head on. Through their work on the Maitree Dairy, a producer company, they have helped to ensure a fair price for everyone's labor and are changing their families' lives forever.
From the ground up
Tonk is a Western district of Rajasthan state in India. Despite the arid climate, and recurring droughts, most of the local population rely on agriculture to make a living. SRIJAN, our partner organization, has been working in the region since 2002.
From the beginning of their work in Tonk, SRIJAN looked for ways to empower local people, especially women and marginalized groups, and support them in improving their own lives. They met with members of a collectively owned village bank to find out their needs, understand the problems they were facing and how their lives could be improved. Although everyone was welcome to these early discussions, staff quickly realized that their approach needed fine-tuning. The men and women didn’t have the same approach to investments and work and some marginalized voices weren’t being heard. Why? Because one size doesn't fit all.
A new model was adopted and these days one representative of each family attends the meetings. Breaking with tradition in these rural communities, every family is represented by a woman. Their involvement has started to change local attitudes to gender equality and women are being more respected in all aspects of their lives. For many of the women it was also an opportunity to learn essential budgeting skills and have more influence over decisions affecting their lives.
From farmer to market
Having spent time getting to understand local challenges, SRIJAN staff conducted some of their own research and identified a breed of buffalo that could help boost milk yield and make family farming more profitable. They took their findings back to their village bank to discuss how, once milk production increased, families could get a fair price for the produce.
The Maitree Dairy was designed to ensure that the most marginalized people got a fair price for their labor
With support from staff, four determined women from the village bank went on small a exposure tour. The trip was testiment to how much local attitudes had already changed and the four women were true pioneers in their community. It was the first time they had left their village, let alone travelled anywhere without their fathers or husbands. Along with SRIJAN staff the pioneers visited women-led co-operative groups where the idea of the Maitree Dairy was born. Inspired by what they saw they started creating their own business plans.
From the word go, their business model was focused on buying milk from farmers, chilling it and selling it to large institutional buyers. From the very beginning and through all this growth, the Maitree Dairy has ensured that the milk pourers, who are traditionally the poorest and most marginalized people working for a dairy, get a fair price for their labor. This is made possible through village level collection points throughout the region served by the dairy.
Raji Davi is one of these pourers. She contributes milk to the Maitree Dairy through a local collection point in Jyotishna. Raji has two buffaloes, one calf and one cow, which yield around 0.6 gallons of milk a day. She sells all of this to the dairy. It's the most stable income she's ever had and it means she can now afford to keep all the goat milk for her own family.
The collection point itself is extremely successful. Within the first three months of opening it had already made $102 of profit which was shared out between the shareholders – 22 villagers like Raji who are members of the collective. It costs $15.70 to become a shareholder but non-members can also sell milk to the collection point. This system means that everyone in the area can now to earn a fair price for their labor and has the opportunity to become a shareholder when they are ready. In fact the collection point has been so successful that, despite some initial reluctance, all the families in Raji's village are now involved in milk production.
Mother, manager, student
At the heart of the day to day work that makes all of this possible is 22 year old Sofali who runs the collection point. She was elected to the role by shareholders because her relatively high level of education set her apart from other candidates. The collection point is open 7 - 8.30AM daily and is always busy – receiving milk from around 17 different families! In the summer that’s around 19.7 gallons of milk and in the winter around 44 - 65 gallons of milk every day.
Once Sofali has collected the milk she tests its quality; smelling and tasting it before using a small machine to check its density. This is the key test because milk density determines the price it sells for.
To prepare for the job Sofali attended a three day residential course, run by SRIJAN, giving her the necessary skills for the role. At every stage SRIJAN made sure that their work in the village and the Maitree dairy gives people real opportunities to improve their lives. From improved livelihoods to education they have focused on sustainable, inclusive change.
Sofali is very positive about her involvement and the difference it has already made to her life. She is ambitious for herself and her children and is using some of her salary to continue her education. She’s happy too, to have such a stable job in her village. It means that, unlike many others, she doesn’t have to migrate to support her family, they get to stay together and she can see a future for them at home.
Investing in dairy ventures
The Maitree Dairy has become an important part of the local economy. Today, over 4500 farmers are associated with the dairy and new innovations are taking the it from strength to stregth.
After extensive research the dairy recently decided to launch their own brand, Maitree Fresh. They now also sell fresh full-cream, ghee and curd at local markets under their own name. Rural outlets have even been set up to sell milk to the most isolated areas, employing more women in the process. The dairy's steady growth is testament to its good leadership and the determination of the women involved.
Many of the families Village Invest supports are involved with the dairy. We are helping them to increase their income by ensuring that they have access to the microcredit that they need to boost their milk yield. They might already have one buffalo but be in need of a cattle shed to improve their livestock care, or perhaps they are ready to buy a second buffalo. The milk they produce will be sold to the Maitre Dairy through the Tonk collection point or through sister collection points throughout Rajasthan. The fair price they earn for their milk means that they will be able to secure a better future for themselves and their families.