Milking Cows to Leading Farmers
I am 42 years old and live in Thathankuttai village in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. There are 52 tribal families here and agriculture is the main activity. Everyone has an acre or two of land but little of anything else. Life is tough. I had been supplementing my income by selling milk that my two milch cows give. I was earning just about Rs. 5,200 a month until a year back.
I also collected milk from others in the village to deliver to the collection centre of dairy company Hatsun Agro Product Ltd. The company sells milk under the Arokya name. Since the quantity of milk produced in the village wasn’t much, it wasn’t remunerative.
I had to cycle 8 kilometers to deliver this milk and the company refused to start a milk collection centre in our village. Frustrated, I began toying with the idea of moving out to the city, and maybe sell umbrellas to support my family.
All that changed when I took the help of my uncle, a panchayat councillor, to approach SST. SST has been active in the village since 2014. They encouraged me to stay the course and focus better on what I was doing. They also helped arrange a bank loan of Rs. 100,000 so I could buy two more animals to boost milk yields. SST helped me and others in the village to grow Azolla, a sustainable feed for livestock.
While all this has helped boost yields to 45 litres from 20 previously for me, the total production in the village has gone up to 275 litres a day. My earnings as a coordinator at the milk collection centre has gone up to Rs. 5,000 from Rs. 700 a month. My total monthly income has risen to approximately Rs. 18,000. Today, I am the leader of the Farmers Club that SST started in the village and am happy to say our efforts have led other families to follow my example. This is what I am most proud of.
The SST Way
Community Development Officer S.Saraswathi, 26, who worked with Sekar
SST adopted the village in 2014, and I came here in 2016. I was doing my internship at the Tribal Health Initiative (THI) centre in Sitiling as part of my internship. I came into contact with SST whilst I was doing a project. SST saw my skills and thought they matched their needs for the work they were doing in the village. I joined them after completing the project.
Sekar was in touch with the SST field staff before I came on board. What I liked about him was the help he extended for organizing meetings with farmers and members of the community. He was always interested in milk collection and what’s admirable was that he managed to get a milk collection centre established in the village. He simply refused to give up. Inspired by his experience, 30 more people have availed of a total loan of Rs 900,000. With the Rs 30,000 each family got, they bought more animals to boost incomes.
Along the way, women in the village got involved as we helped them learn stitching and tailoring. They went on to make non-woven or handmade cloth bags with wooden handles that are called Katta Pai in Tamil. Each bag fetches them between Rs. 2 to Rs. 3.50, depending on the size. Earlier these women were ridiculed as relatives would tease them about how little they could earn this way; not anymore. Now, women from nearby villages have taken to this. Today, women groups hire community halls in the village for Rs. 100 a day and use them for making bags.
Sekar and others in the village are thinking of expanding their activities to rearing chickens and fish farming. All this should boost their income and lead to a better quality of life. We have to thank Sekar for being an effective partner in bringing about this change. We look forward to helping him and others in the village go from strength to strength.
Villagers are suspicious and will ask anyone associated with companies if they are here to sell them their products. We have to help them break their initial hesitation and overcome this.
We decided to not just rely on the Gram Sabha but took the initiative to organize our own meetings of all farmers, anganwadi workers and other members of the village community.
Women can be the key to making the first breakthrough and can be the best change agents. Initiatives involving women can help reach out convincingly to other groups or stakeholders.