India's milk revolution

Every day at dawn and dusk, 2 million Indian farmers pick up their milk cans and cycle or walk to the nearest collection center. They are part of the dairy cooperative movement that has swept India since the early 1970s, enabling owners of a few dairy cows to profit from buoyant demand for their perishable product in distant cities.

The movement began on a small scale thirty years ago, when a dairy producers' cooperative was established in the small town of Anand in western India. The Anand cooperative formed the model for a grass-roots movement in most Indian states. Assisted by the World Food Program, the EEC, FAO, and IDA, this movement has grown into an industry comprising more than 10,000 village cooperatives that process 2.5 million of liters of milk every day. They sell fresh milk to Bombay, Delhi, and other major cities and supply processed dairy products throughout the country.

The cooperatives are organized in three tiers: village dairy societies, unions of the dairy societies, and a federation of the unions. The whole system is owned by the primary milk producers. Two semi-autonomous government agencies -- the National Dairy Development Board and the India Dairy Corporation -- provide technical and financial assistance.

The cooperatives form an integrated system for marketing and processing. The local cooperatives buy milk on commission at the collection centers. The milk is immediately brought by truck to the union dairy where it is pasteurized, put into insulated tankers, and shipped to major cities or processed into dried milk , cheese, butter, and other products.

Every member of a cooperative has access to technical assistance. The package includes emergency and weekly veterinary services, artificial insemination, concentrated feeds, and seeds for high-yielding fodder crops.

Giving producers a reliable and profitable outlet for their milk and the technical where-withal to increase production has helped raise rural income. The movement has even benefited the landless poor who often own one or two cows or buffaloes. In particular, it has enhanced the status and well-being of women, who are the traditional caretakers of livestock and the recipients of income from milk sales.

This cooperative venture has worked when many others have failed. The features which seem to have helpd shape its success include the following:

* Its dedicated leadership and well-trained staff subscribe to a common principle of service to rural communities.

* Its organizational system enforces strict accountability.

* Its streamlined marketing system is suited to the commodity's perishable nature.

* Economies of scale at the processing stage encourage collective action.

* Payments are based on fat content and are received by producers within twelve hours.

* A well-publicized and appropriate package of technical services is offered to all members.

* International aid (including food aid) has been used judiciously to help build the dairy industry.

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