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  Social Responsibility

Women Empowerment
Published on: Feb. 13, 2020, 8:13 p.m.
Ambuja Cement helps women get together to form farmer producer organisations

By Business India Editorial

n the hilly terrains of Darlaghat, Himachal Pradesh, agriculture is the primary livelihood source and accounts for nearly 62 per cent of the employment in the state. The landscape poses several challenges for the local farmers – both in backward and forward linkages.

Through training and capacity building of 23 women in this village to collectivise as Pashu Swasthya Sevikas (PSS - Para Vets) and build a Farmer Producer Organisation – Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) helped them invest efforts in animal husbandry as part of its agro-based livelihood programme. In collaboration with PSS, ACF devised a business plan for the project, and PSS quickly convinced women farmers to join the venture – registering their own dairy cooperative in 2016, with 37 women shareholders. Under Himachal Pradesh Cooperative Societies Act, 1968, the cooperative was registered as Amrit Dhara Milk Producers Marketing Cooperative Society Ltd. The co-operative not only channelises milk supply, but also collectively procured low cost, high-quality fodder from cities. The organisation has moved forward to set up a bulk milk chilling centre which collects 2,000 litres of milk per day from the area.

ACF, the social responsibility arm of the cement company, facilitates the formation of Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) such as Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), Water User Associations, Health Samitis and Women’s Federations – building their capacity along the way, and supporting them in empowering the community across all programmes.

Organised communities People in these organisations own and drive various projects in rural communities. They come together to raise their voice on any issue or create awareness on a certain issue that can bring in a behaviour change in the community. The communities are generally organised on the issues which are closer to their existence or facilitation of lives of any community. They can gradually shift their focus to other issues and have the potential to get registered as business units.

With its currently running intervention to mitigate Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in rural communities, ACF aims to log at least two-fold expansion of its outreach by focusing more in developing and strengthening CBOs and village samitis such as village development committee, health and nutrition committee, which will emphasise on behavioural change for sustainable impact.

ACF also builds Water User Associations that are responsible to ensure that farmers in their region have access to water. Regular training with the members has ensured that they follow agreed procedures and distribution methods to avail of water under the project.

ACF helps FPOs to voice out opinion, support affordable inputs and a stronger capacity for collective bargaining. It also helps in the joint bulk procurement of a variety of inputs for farms, including fertilisers and organic insecticides. This plays the main role of facilitating market linkages so that FPOs can cut out middlemen and generate better profits for their members. The key objective of such enterprises is to gain an additional source of livelihood income, provide knowledge and information on dairy, market linkages and promote animal husbandry.

In Darlaghat, community members saved time in travelling to milk chilling centres located miles away. Local diary centres from nearby villages approached the FPO to transport milk in their neighbourhood. From 2008 to 2017, the society increased its reach from 15 to 50 villages and the members have increased from 15 to 202. The milk production has risen from 730 litres/day to 3,483 litres/day. Today, 212 farmers are linked to the local dairy.

Since the initiative began, there is an improved standard of living in the communities, increase in quantity of milk sold, and more milk chilling centres to be set up in the neighbouring communities and milk produce business to be a profitable initiative for the organisation.

ACF plays a critical role in supporting the governance of these organisations to ensure their long-term sustainability. It helps in guidance of schemes which are released by partners like National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) so that the FPOs receive the maximum outcome. It also helped increase the income and rotating fund within the organisation. The initiative has led to empowerment with women making business decisions and being elected as community leaders.

The initiative has built confidence amongst the para vets, for which they are willing to bring change to earn an additional income. The Co-operative has decided to buy land on its own to store cattle feed, fodder and supplements. The para vets will be able to set up chilling centres and provide training on animal husbandry in neighbouring villages.

The FPO was awarded the best performing Farmer Producer Organisation in the state of Himachal Pradesh in January 2019. Winning awards prove the significant role these organisations play in empowering and transforming the lives of rural women through holistic initiatives, thus contributing to gender equality. An organisation like NABARD with interest in women are able to replicate the same initiative with ACF support in other ACF locations and enable women to transform their role from homemakers to change-makers.

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