A Look Into The Lives of Dairy Farmers Who Benefited From Micro-Loans

September 23, 2016
By Rang De Team
Married to labourers or famers who earn less than Rs 5–6k per month, these women have no choice but to take a loan so that they can buy buffalos costing upwards of Rs 40,000 (pic: A dairy farmer in Dholpur, Rajasthan)

Over eight years, we have crowdfunded 4,500+ loans to buffalo rearers, cow rearers, milk sellers and other related occupations in nine states — Bihar, Jharkand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand.

These are usually women whose families have been involved in dairy farming for generations. Given that cows or buffalos that are actively milked only have a shelf life of 5–6 years, they take our loans after a gap in activity to buy a new cow and restart their businesses.

Usually married to labourers, their families do not have enough savings to make a large Rs 40,000–50,000 purchase and get a new cow or buffalo.

Even if they are the ones rearing the cows, women are not assumed to know enough about the breeds so men take the money and make the purchase.

A day in the life of a dairy farmer

A dairy farmer usually wakes up between 4.30–5 in the morning and cleans the shed, milks the cow and feeds it a few hours later.

Usually, she collects fodder and agricultural produce from her land holdings — broken wheat, jowar etc. In every state, there is usually a belief that certain food items will lead to healthy cows. For example, in Rajasthan, they believe that mustard oil (60 Rs/litre) and jaggery (Rs 450 per buffalo per month) should be purchased and this leads to a hefty bill at the end of the month — they usually spend around Rs 1,500 per buffalo in Dholpur.

The better the breed, the higher the feeding expense. In states that are poorer like Bihar, they have no choice but to feed what they grow.

After milking in the morning, the woman fills the drinking water tub every few hours to ensure the animals stay hydrated.

The men or the young boys take the animals out for grazing, which ensures the animal stays active and productive, but if the man of the house is a casual labourer or a hired labourer, the animals stay at home as women are usually not permitted to go out of the house.

Dairy farming work for most women as they are home-based businesses and they have adequate knowledge on cow/buffalo rearing (pic: A child in a village near Mysore)

After completing her household work, a dairy farmer bathes the buffalo. During summers, they have to bathe the animals 3–4 times in a day. At times of water scarcity, the women might even have to travel far and get water from a distant source.

In a day, a cow of a good breed would give between 7–10 litres. Between 1–1.5 litres is kept for household consumption and the rest would either be sold to a local dudhiya, a milk federation or to neighbours.

At dairy federations, the milk is sold between Rs 25–32/litre but the price depends a lot on the fat content. In poorer states, the amount is lower.

Traditionally, men make the sales and market the milk.

A long road to financial independence

Very few women know how to adequately take care of their wards (health camps are being provided for free by many organisations in rural India) but they do their best to keep the sheds clean. Fever or cough are the common complaints and they can only afford to go to government veterinary care centres.

The animals reach peak productivity between 3–5 years and become inactive a few years later but even if a cow or buffalo becomes inactive, few women sell them off as they consider them to be part of the family.

If the cow has an accident or loses a leg or has health issues then they have no choice but to sell it off at a discounted price.

Women dairy farmers are rarely aware of the finer details of the occupation but they try to invest in a good breed and know it will take a few years to accumulate enough savings so that they can buy animals on their own.

Once they increase their stock, their overall volume of milk sales increase and they can maintain this trade continuously without the help of loans.

Sometimes, they even begin to produce related dairy products like curds, ghee, butter milk and sweets.

Dairy farming also provides stability to the family unlike agriculture which is dependent on the seasons. At the same time, it is a more expensive endeavour as good quality buffalos only start from Rs 40–42,000.

If they were to rely on just their savings, many women end up buying inactive or pregnant cows that cost just Rs 25–35k but the productivity of these animals is low and it is not a wise decision in the long run.

Moreover, a family that practises dairy farming improves its health as the children get to consume nutritious milk or related products which they would otherwise consume at smaller quantities.

By taking a loan and buying an animal of their own, they also stop being dependent on husbands who are casual labourers or farmers.

Dairy farmers also rarely sign up for insurance and it just takes a death of one of their stock for them to fall into a cycle of debt.

It took Indrabhai Dhule, a borrower from Maharashtra, three successive Rang De loans to get to a stage where she can buy new buffalos out of the income generated from the activity itself

A Rang De loan has given hundreds of women a structured approach to get their families out of poverty.

With the favourable rates that we offer, it doesn’t take them five years or more to get to a stage where they don’t need a loan anymore.

Your contribution to dairy farmers has helped hundreds of women dramatically improve their lives over the years. The concept of a low-interest loan exclusively for women has also changed attitudes towards them as well.

Rang De is transitioning from a charitable trust to a Non Banking Financial Company. Check out our brand new peer-to-peer lending platform rangde.in