Being the International Year of Co-operatives, I had the opportunity during a trip to India to meet a number of senior officials working in the co-operative sector both at state and national levels and also to visit a number of rural co-operatives.
In a country with a population of over one billion people, with vast disparities of wealth, it was reassuring to see how well established the Co-operative Movement there is at supporting communities — particularly in the poorer rural areas.
The Movement in India remains true to the founding principles of the Rochdale Pioneers. Like the Co-operative Movement globally, India is also facing some significant challenges in making the Movement relevant to today’s society and providing sufficient resources to enable expansion in key areas.
In addition to visiting the Institute of Co-operative Management in Hyderabad, I was particularly impressed to see the work of a local NGO called Co-operative Development Foundation (CDF) in Warangal district (North West of Hyderabad) which has championed the establishment of women’s thrift co-operatives (savings and loans), women's dairy co-operatives (milk production and marketing) and paddy co-ops (rice seed production and marketing).
The first women’s dairy co-operative was created following extensive studies in the Andra Pradesh region which showed that, within families, women played a significant role in looking after dairy cattle and milk production in rural villages.
Another was setup in the Mulukanoor area of Warangal district in 2002. I was fortunate to visit the second women’s dairy co-operative set up in Wardhannapet area in 2006. The board of directors’ for both these co-operatives are composed entirely of women.
CDF provides initial funding (loans), training and support to these co-operatives in the procurement of milk from the villages, processing and marketing of the milk. In a country where adverse weather i.e flood or drought can severely impact crop agriculture, dairy farming provides rural communities with a stable income throughout the year for people who have very limited resources and meagre incomes.
Some of the challenges they face include access to local markets to sell their produce, obtaining funding, and securing regular supply of electricity. These co-operatives also have a much bigger cultural impact on the role of women in rural communities.
Traditionally, men make all the decisions. These women have now gained greater confidence to make decisions in their families as well. CDF has plans to set up a number of these women’s dairy co-operatives over the next ten years. The success of many these projects are largely dependent on securing sufficient capital funding.
In this, the International Year of Co-operatives, it’s particularly important to remember that we have responsibility to support programmes which help reduce poverty within developing countries. I strongly believe we should be actively collaborating with these organisations to help them create a fairer society.