This document has been made available in electronic format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) 

Women and the White Revolution (1998)

June, 1998

(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol.8, No.1, Jan-June,1998, pp. 20-25)

Women and the White Revolution by Dr. Amrita Patel


(Dr. Patel is the Managing Dire-ctor of the National Dairy Development Board, which was and is instrumental in bringing the `White Revolution' to India.

The Board has been in the forefront for providing the urban centres in India with milk and milk products. The Board has branched into chocolates, ice cream, frozen vegetables and even market fresh vegetables through its outlets, which is a boon to the Indian urban population, while at the same time, providing reasonable prices for the produce of rural co-operative producers.

This is the key note address delivered by Dr. Patel at the Second Pan Commonwealth Veterinary Conference on Women in Rural/Agricultural Development in Bangalore, 22nd Feb., 1998.

- Editor)

It is important to realise that India’s livestock population of Cattle, buffalo, goats and sheep and other domestic animals is widely dispersed throughout the country and in many cases, represent the major source of livelihood, particularly for poorer rural families. Excluding draught power livestock products account for at least 25 per cent of the economic value deprived from agriculture in India, a proportion that is growing.

In the case of dairying, however, the growth in production, productivity and incomes is relatively recent. The trend, until the early 1960s, was of stagnation in production and decline in per capita availability, particularly of milk and milk products. What changed this was the Indian dairy farmer empowered and enabled by the resources - human, material and financial - made available through a programme known as "Operation Flood".

The inspiration and genesis "Operation Flood" was the success of dairy co-operative venture in the Kheda district of the western Indian state of Gujarat. A little more than fifty years ago, the farmers of Kheda district rebelled against the exploitation they were subjected to by middlemen and contractors who enjoyed a monopoly in the collection of rural milk.

Inspired and encouraged by one of the titans of India’s Independence Movement, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, they organised a co-operative union to collect and market their own milk. Facing and overcoming enormous obstacles, the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union was formed and rapidly grew in membership, procurement, support services and products. It was not long before the brand name it adopted AMUL, became synonymous with quality and products throughout India.

The primary reason for the success of the co-operative was the fact that it was a

co-operative. It was the needs of dairy farmers of Kheda District that were central to the objective of the co-operative.

It was not the planners in Delhi, but the farmers serving as the owners of the

co-operative, who decided its policies and priorities. The employees of the co-operative worked for farmers and were accountable to them. Unlike their fellow veterinary graduates employed by Government who sat waiting for the occasional animal to be brought to them, the AMUL’s veterinarians were on call day and night come rain and shine. If there was a problem with the feed, there was a determined bid by farmers to correct it not the bureaucratic shenanigan to avoid responsibility.

It was not long before the success of the co-operative was in such striking contrast to other approaches adopted for dairy development that the Government of India decided to adopt what is now termed as "the Anand Pattern" as the fundamental structure for the development of this sector. This later led to the creation of the National Dairy Development Board which was made responsible for promoting, financing and supporting dairy development in India, a task with which we are still engaged.

I see from the Conference Programme that for those who are interested there is an opportunity to visit a village dairy co-operative on the 26th morning at 7.00 a.m.

If you choose to go, you will see a queue form in front of co-operative society’s building. Women, men, boys and girls, rich and poor, Harijan and Brahmin standing in the queue with their cans of milk each pouring their milk into a common pool after it has been and tested for fat.

The milk from the village you visit will go to town, sometimes many miles away, where it will be processed at a modern dairy. That dairy owned by the farmers of the village, and other villages like theirs. Fifteen of those farmers have been elected to govern the dairy decide its plans and lay down the policies that guide the work of the co-operative’s professional employees. In most cases the co-operative not only processes and markets its milk and milk products it also manufactures and sell cattle feed, provides veterinary services, operates an artificial insemination service and offers a range of extension and other services, Here in Bangalore, the milk sold in the city comes from several

co-operative unions which together market some 750,000 litres of milk every day.

It is matter of great pride for me to share with you what has been achieved by the dairy farmers of India:

• The growth of milk production in our country has increased from 0.7 percent per annum in 1970 to 4.7 per cent per annum thereafter, the result of the policies and programmes of "Operation Flood".

• Milk production has increased from 24.5 million tons in 1970 to 70 million tons this year an enormous gain to our economy and particularly to our dairy farmers.

• More than 10 million member households have stood to gain and the urban consumer has an assured supply of quality milk.

• Our indigenous dairy equipment manufacturing capacity has reached the point where less than ten percent of dairy equipment we require is imported.

• An impressive body of indigenous knowledge and expertise now exists in all aspects of animal husbandry nutrition, animal health, breeding, management information systems dairy engineering, food technology etc.

• Of special note is the fact that sixty percent of those who have benefited from Operation Flood are landless or small farmers with a holding of less than two hectares of land.

• For the poorer villagers, milk incomes have meant the difference between their children going to school or not going at all, particularly the girl child.

While we are proud of what we have achieved, we are also concerned with what we have

not yet accomplished. We have a distance yet to travel in terms of achieving the highest standards of quality, a task that is all the more difficult when you are collecting milk from millions of small holders. While milk production in India is energy efficient, we still need to achieve greater economies and efficiencies in transport, processing and marketing. Production has risen along with productivity, now production must rise because of improved productivity.

I mention this background to illustrate what has been achieved by the Indian dairy farmer. And this has been achieved largely by women.

There have been a number of studies of who does what in Indian agriculture and animal husbandry and while these studies differ and while there are clearly differences in different zones and regions most conclude that women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of the work involved with dairy animal in our country.

So, if our milk production has risen to 40 million tonnes over what it would have been otherwise, if our per capita availability of milk has doubled during a period when our population trebled, if we are now the second largest milk producer in the world and will soon become the largest then it is Indian woman dairy farmer who deserves the major share of the credit. We can only be astonished at this of our largely uneducated rural women. One can imagine what they could have achieved had they been literate, educated and truly, empowered. While there has been some participation by women and even some all women’s dairy co-operatives in Indian prior to 1980s, it is only during the last decade that we have really begun to recognise the importance of women in dairying and taken steps to encourage their participation on a larger and more significant scale.

The first major effort to support women’s participation was funded and supported by the Ford Foundation in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. It sought to create dairy co-operative societies for women led by women and managed by women. In effect however women have found it difficult, if not impossible to assume a meaningful role in elected leadership or in the management of the co-operative. Therefore to support the development of all women’s co-operatives a cadre of women extension workers are recruited and trained.

From the late 1980s the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) placed a major emphasis on women’s education as part of our co-operative development programme, an activity designed to strengthen the role of women members in the control and governance of the dairy co-operatives.

Men were educated about the role of women in dairying while women were motivated to join dairy co-operatives and to assert their rights as member. They were encouraged to attend meeting with extension workers and when the payments for milk were made to collect the money that was paid by the society. Women were also encouraged to stand for membership of managing committees and in some states co-operatives and unions began to reserve seats on their boards for women.

The results of these efforts have been modestly encouraging. Something like 6,000 out of the 70,000 dairy co-operative societies in India are women’s societies. The percentage of women members has risen from about 14 per cent a decade ago to around 20 per cent today. There have been small increases in the numbers of women serving on co-operative managing committees as well as in paid positions. But, when compared with the actual role performed by women in dairying these achievements still represent only a very small start.

More recently still, we have evolved a programme called the Women’s Dairy

Co-operative Leadership Programme which sets very ambitious goals to raise the percentage of active women members in dairy co-operatives, the percentage of elected leaders at every level and the numbers and status of women employees. This programme has been tested in four districts of the country during the last two years. In each district the approach differed, while the basic strategy was more or less constant. Based on what we have learned, we hope to find at least 35 of our District Unions willing to adopt the programme during the next three years, with each union committing itself to relatively radical change in the composition of membership and leadership.

What we hope will occur is that well over 50 percent in dairy co-operative societies will be women that at least 50 per cent of elected leaders of the district union and state federations will be women that we will see significant increases in the numbers of women employed as chief executives, managers and as officers.

We hope that significant number of women will organise themselves into "Thrift and Credit Co-operatives" saving and borrowing to meet both their production investment and provident needs and most importantly that women members will by working together, not only improve their family economic well being, but that we will begin to see significant changes in the health of women and girls, in the literacy standards of adult women and the education of girls, and finally, that women’s status in the family and in society will be one of an equal partner.

You may well ask - Why does the Indian National Dairy Development Board support such an effort? It could be argued that we have been doing reasonably well without involving ourselves too extensively in social engineering. Let me try to answer.

First, we begin with the belief that fundamentally co-operatives can be the most effective and important form of corporate enterprise, especially in developing dairying in India and that this is true regardless of the scale, complexity and scope of dairying.

Secondly, we believe that co-operatives are user organisations and they function effectively only to the extent that the members and leaders are users, that is, that they are themselves dairy farmers. A dairy co-operative composed primarily of wheat farmers doing a bit of dairying on the side would be less successful than one whose membership comprises full-time dairy farmers.

A dairy co-operative whose elected leadership is composed of dairy farmers themselves will, we believe, almost always prove more successful than one whose leadership is drawn from amongst politicians and bureaucrats. By the same token, a dairy co-operative that is formed and led by users that us by those who actually rear, feed and manage cows and buffaloes - will prove far more successful than one that is formed and led by the kinsmen of such users.

Because of their direct involvement in animal husbandry, women also know much more about the care and feeding of dairy animals. It is the women who know the fodder and browse that can be fed to animals during periods of drought. It is women who first notice disease and pest problems. It is women who are able to identify the first signs of oestrous in cattle and buffaloes. Yet, because men still dominate our dairy co-operative membership, our unions all too often have extension services that neither convey information to women, nor bring back the knowledge that they have that is important to the union’s work.

I should like to think that all things being equal, women’s dairy co-operatives will perform better than men’s because women are less political, more loyal to the

co-operative concept, more inclined to co-operate with each other and to place their common interests and concerns above the superficial differences of religion, caste and political affiliation.

We have studied the impact of our programmes of women’s education and leadership development in two districts in Kolhapur in Maharashtra and in Jaipur in Rajasthan. In both districts, large numbers of women were asked questions about their knowledge of dairying and co-operatives as well as their attitude towards their role as dairy farmers and as women in such a role. While data is still being analysed - the volume is massive - there appear to be significant and positive differences in the perceptions of women who have participated in our programmes, and those who have not.

These differences include not only a more positive attitude to their role in decision making related to dairying, but also in relation to their attitude towards the education and health of their girl children.

The transcripts of interviews with women dairy farmers are almost uniform in their emphasis on the theme that, by becoming actively involved in the co-operative individual women have become aware of their own capabilities of the strength that can be achieved by working jointly with other women, and of the importance of ensuring that their daughters enjoy the same access to education and health as their sons.

We have also learnt lessons from our Women’s Dairy Co-operative Leadership Pilot Programme and I would like to share some with you.

You will not be surprised to know that the type of change we have endeavoured to promote, runs counter to the prevailing values associated with the respective roles of men and women in every area where the pilot programme was implemented. Those values are, to say the least, antagonistic to the objectives of the programme.

Despite the fundamental value conflict, the pace of change in women’s attitudes and perceptions about themselves and their role has, if anything, proved more rapid and convincing than we anticipated.

Even though the board of each participating union voted to adopt the programme, and even though the managers were carefully consulted there was remarkably pronounced resistance to its actual implementation and continuation so far with only one exception.

There are, it would appear, many avenues of helping women to become leaders and developing leadership skills. We have found that the organisation of women’s thrift groups and co-operative often proves a fertile ground for leadership development. In fact, any activity which involves women working together for a common goal over a period of time creates sustained enthusiasm and women working together for a common goal over a period of time created sustained enthusiasm and confidence in them.

While the literature on women speaks of empowerment and while we believed that empowerment is important to sustain long term change in the role of women, we have not been entirely clear on what empowerment means much less how to encourage it. We could see that in a world where the male is dominant women’s roles change only when they possess the confidence, the courage, the commitment and the perseverance to promote and even force change. The question is, how can this be promoted.

We now believe we have some clues as to what in fact empowerment is, as well as how to encourage it. We can see empowerment in decision-making. Who participates in a decision, and who actually decides are measures of empowerment.

A further dimension is the nature of the decision. Who takes the decision to buy a new cow or buffalo, or how to feed the animal while she is pregnant, whether to artificially inseminate or naturally service a cow on who to vote for as a managing committee member, whether to send a daughter to school or who the son and daughter should marry?

These are the decisions of importance. Who takes the decision is an indicator of empowerment. These are also illustrative of the areas where women have generally had a limited, if any, role in decision-making.

Rural women are also constrained by the patriarchal tradition and succession laws in the country which exclude women from inheriting land. This in turn denies them access to institutional credit as land is invariably required as collateral for all credit from finance institutions.

How does an organisation like the NDDB promote change in who takes decisions and by doing so, how this empowers women? This is an important set of questions and we don’t pretend to have many, much less all the answers. But we have a few ideas on which we are working. One thing we believe we do know is that rural people and women particularly develop skills and attitudes when they have opportunity to practise them and when they are encouraged they practice them well. So it seems to us that opportunities must be created - again and again and again - where women can take decisions on matters that are important to them. We believe that when groups of women are organised around a purpose - whether economic, religious, political or social- they have the opportunity to practise taking important decisions.

We also believe that we know that decisions have consequences - both positive and negative - and that along with empowerment, or the courage to take decisions, there must be opportunities to develop insight and skills in taking decisions.

Women must not only be empowered to take decisions, they must be reinforced by results, which means learning to take good decisions and to assess, in advance and after the consequences of those decisions.

It is, we believe, important to educate men as well as women, if we are to promote changes in the quality we seek. Rural men can and must be transformed into allies instead of opponents to change. We intend to begin this effort at home by helping our male officers of the NDDB to become sensitive to gender issues, both at work and at home.

We have also learned- perhaps the hard way that financial inducements are often a poor way to encourage societal change. We no longer offer a package of funds to unions that are willing to undertake activities such as the Women’s Dairy Co-operative Leadership Programme. We will support such programmes with training, with consultancy, with our personnel but with money only when it is crucial to the outcome.

Let me say again that we do not have the answers. We welcome constructive criticism and the contributions of everyone who shares our goals and who can help us reach those goals more effectively and more rapidly.

How, you might ask, does all of this fit into the larger picture, into the broader subjects of this conference and into the future of a nation?

The first point I would like to make is that one of the real problems we have encountered in implementing this type of programme in the field is the shortage if committed, intelligent and sensitive women extension workers who are able to and willing to work in our villages with women farmers.

There is little doubt in my mind that a woman can far better carry the message of better breeding, better feeding, better husbandry, better veterinary care to other women. In some parts of our country, it is still taboo for a male to speak to the women who are working with the animals. Regrettably, those of our women who take veterinary science degree seem to prefer an urban existence in a laboratory or consulting room, to life in an agrarian setting.

A second point relates to the role of veterinarian. In fact, as we became involved in the delivery of services of women, we have learned lessons that can be extended to all extension programmes and we have identified problems that can be traced. I regret to say to our very approach to veterinary eduction.

While there is a need for research, the ends of research must be the delivery of new inputs and methods that help farmers become more productive and to earn more from their labour and investment. What this means is that our veterinarians - the vast majority who do not go on to specialisation - must be able to communicate with farmers generally and in the case of dairying with women specifically. Yet our veterinary colleges do not help their students to develop skills in communications, the skills necessary to successfully promote adoption of change by farmers at large.

The Government input delivery system together with research and teaching institutes that complement it exhibits a marked gender bias. Considering the extent of women participation in the livestock economy, their lack of representation in the delivery system is a cause of concern.

Of the 40,000 academically qualified veterinarians in the country only about 5000 are women. They are confined mostly to the vaccine production centres, diagnostic labs and the like. I am not aware of any women in the ranks of para-veterinarians.

The situation in the research and teaching institutes is no better. In the School of Veterinary Science of the Pant Nagar Agriculture University, there are about 465 students and faculty members. Of these only 2 are women. In the Veterinary College at Mathura, there are only 4 women in a total of 491 students and faculty. I believe this applies by and large to most other Indian teaching institutes. A similar situation prevails at the national institutes also.

In 1995, the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar had a contingent of 293 veterinarians and scientists. Of these only 7 were women. The National Dairy Research Institute at Karnal had a student strength of 300 of which 30 were women and 200 scientists, of which only 8 were women. It is ironical that the admission of women to agriculture, veterinary and forest sciences have been labelled, even today, as ‘non-traditional" areas for women learning.

It is interesting, though discouraging to that the lessons of rural sociology - of communication of innovation have been well taught and learned by those who sell soap, liquor and cigarettes.

Regrettably, however, all too few of our veterinary colleges train their students to assess

a group to identify those who will be quick to adopt innovations and influence others

to follow suit.

Our students do not get to learn how to present new ideas in ways that encourage rather than discourage acceptance. Equally, students are not taught how to promote acceptance of a new practice at each stage in the adoption process. I fear that as a consequence, we produce all too many veterinary graduates with neither the will nor the skill to lead effective extension programmes.

In conclusion may I take the liberty of addressing, in particular the men in this audience. By your very presence you are acknowledged as the leaders in your field, both in your own countries and internationally.

The values attitudes and beliefs to which you give expression both in word and deed will undoubtedly have far greater influence on your peers than most others in yours and related fields. We all know that the development of the dairy industry and the development of nations depends greatly on that half of the population, often referred to as the weaker sex, that in all too many parts of the world continues to be ignored in most crucial decision making. We all know that by bringing women into the mainstream of decision making we achieve a wide variety of and large less on women and more on men.

By your concern, encouragement by your conscious effort and by the respect you show to your women colleagues, students and farmers you can make the crucial difference that matters. That difference can either be negative or positive. If negative, a vast resource of creative knowledge and ability will remain largely dormant. If positive, the change we want will rapidly develop a momentum of its own and blossom.

Let me ask each one of you to dwell on the role of women in all areas we are addressing; of animal production, veterinary public health, disease control and veterinary education.

In all of these areas if we want the benefits of our work to reach and affect the lives of dairy farmers, particularly in developing countries, then we must think how we can reach out in particular to women with our messages, what we can do to empower women to participate in crucial decisions, how we can support women to adopt new methods and practices and how we can help them to ensure that they too benefit from their labours so that future generations of women are educated, healthy, and standing tall shoulder to shoulder with their men, share equally the responsibility of making a better life for us all.