Productive Dairy Value Chain Improves Lives of Women in Sri Lanka

Posted by on March 6th, 2014 | 0 Comments »

By Ann Steensland, Senior Policy Associate

International Women’s Day (March 8th) is an annual celebration that highlights the challenges and recognizes the accomplishments of women around the world.  In this spirit, the Global Harvest Initiative’s 2013 Global Agriculture Productivity Report® reported on the challenges and accomplishment of women smallholder farmers in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Twenty six years of ethnic conflict and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami devastated the region, leaving many farmers without resources to rebuild or to market their milk to dairy processors.  Women, many of whom were widowed by decades of conflict, are particularly vulnerable.

Sri Lankan Farmer with Cows - Land O'Lakes

Photo: Land O’Lakes

Farms are the most important source of employment, income, and food for women in rural areas.  Studies have found that each one percent increase in agriculture yield translates into a similar increase in the number of people that can afford basic needs. (GHI, 2012 GAP Report®, 14.) As a result, the best opportunity to improve the lives, livelihoods, and nutritional status of rural women in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka was to improve the productivity of the dairy value chain and to provide market connections for their products.

One of the barriers to increasing productivity was the women’s lack of access to technologies that improve animal husbandry and animal health and wellness.  Another challenge was the absence of a cooperative women’s group to facilitate business training and access to financing so they could take advantage of increasing local and regional demand for dairy products.

In 2009, Land O’Lakes International Development, USAID, and CIC Agri Business, a Sri Lankan dairy company, launched a three-year dairy enhancement in Eastern Province (DEEP) program designed to introduce improved technologies and link smallholder farmers to commercial markets, with the goal of increasing farmers’ incomes by 75 percent.  To restore livelihoods and improve living conditions of widowed women and their families, DEEP ensured strong female participation across all activities.  Women took part in hands-on training in animal nutrition, care and disease management which served to strengthen their connections to government veterinary services.  DEEP also helped women move beyond irregular informal sales by developing a market driven link to a private-sector processor willing to provide a higher farm-gate price. Today, relying solely on milk production from the Eastern Province, CIC Agri Business is selling 50,000 cups of yogurt a day around Sri Lanka, as well as 15,000 small packets of milk for children.

After decades of extraordinary struggles and hardships, on this International Women’s Day, women in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka have much to celebrate.  Thanks to their determination and hard work and thanks to supportive programs like DEEP, they are empowered to shape a more hopeful future for themselves and their families.

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