“Our milk money was going out of our village”, says Chandrashekhar, a Samaj Shilpi from Kittali village of North Karnataka. “Our people were selling milk to middle men at ridiculously low prices of Rs 12/litre. It hurt me to see my fellow villagers exploited like this. Prior to the year 2000, there was a milk cooperative in my village. But it was closed down because of financial mismanagement. These 14 years were a huge loss to the dairy farmers in my village. I was determined to change this.”
Thus began, Chandrashekhar’s quest to bring a dairy cooperative society to his village. Along with two other like-minded young persons from his village, Chandrashekhar attended a 3-day training at the Karnataka Cooperative Milk Producers Federation (KMF) in June 2014. They learnt the many benefits of a cooperative under KMF: free veterinary care, free (or at factory price) cattle feed, a bonus to all members of the cooperative, etc. The icing on the cake of course was the money they could get for their milk – Rs 20- Rs 40 per liter based on the fat content and the ‘degree’. This strengthened their resolve.
They went house to house to convince villagers about the benefits of the cooperative. It was not easy. The villagers were sceptical after their previous experience with a cooperative. There was tremendous political pressure to give the cooperative to the same group that had (mis)managed it earlier. Somehow, Chandrashekhar and his friends managed to convince 40 villagers to become members of the cooperative. Ten of these members had milch cattle. Rs 25,000 was collected as share amount.
In July 2014, Kittali village was ready for its second experiment with a milk cooperative. The Navachetana Dairy Cooperative was born. While waiting for the collection center at the Kittali village to be approved, the milk was sent to another collection center at the nearby village of Narsapur. The initial few months from July to October, were disappointing. Kittali village milk was not getting a good price as villagers were adding water to the milk thus diluting its quality. Rs 40/liter seemed a distant dream.
Would the Navachetana Dairy Cooperative dream turn sour even before it started? Chandrashekhar and his team were determined to make it work. They began to educate the dairy farmers on the correlation between the fat content of the milk and the price it could fetch. They also bought a machine to measure the fat content at the village itself. Slowly things began to change. People stopped diluting the milk. More members joined the cooperative. Navachetana Dairy Cooperative was on a roll.
The number of members in the cooperative has now reached 105. Forty to Fifty members are supplying milk daily. Chandrashekhar remarks proudly “In less than 8 months since we started the Navachetana Dairy Cooperative, it now collects 165 litres of milk every day. All members supplying milk must compulsorily keep 1/2 to 1 liter aside for their own children. We don’t want to deprive our children of milk by selling it all.” The income of a dairy farmer has gone up by Rs 300-Rs 1200 per week, depending on the number of cows and the fat content of milk. Between July 14 and March 15, the cooperative made a profit of Rs 25,000. However, challenges remain. 20% of the milk is still being sold to middle men. This is because the farmers are in debt to the middle men. There are also delays in disbursal from KMF. “But we are sure to overcome this. In fact, we may expand this model to the nearby Kalasa village”, says an optimistic Chandrashekhar.
Next time you add that drop of milk to your morning tea, in Karnataka, it may well have come from the Navachetana Dairy Cooperative.
Chandrashekhar worked as a Samaj Shilpi till April 2015 in the Kittali Panchayat in the Badami Taluk of Bagalkot district. Along with getting a Dairy Cooperative Society to his village, Chandrashekar worked on different ways on enhancing rural livelihoods by leveraging government schemes such as MGNREGA. In April 2015, Chandrashekhar and four other village volunteers who had helped bring the cooperative to the Kittali village, decided to contest for the Gram Panchayat elections. All five of them won. Chandrashekhar’s dream is to develop his village panchayat into a model village panchayat. We wish him all success.