“When they brought in a computer in ‘96 I thought that I was done; that they’d let me go and get someone who could use it. But Seetaben (former President of the cooperative) encouraged me to learn it and I learnt it within a week,” says Jayrajben, a member of the Pethapur Mahila Dudh Utpadak Sahakari Mandali, a women-run dairy cooperative in the Pethapur village of Gandhinagar district. The cooperative is a milk collection centre for the area’s women cattle farmers, where milk is collected, tested for fat (which determines its value) and sent to larger dairies like Amul, Uttam and Madhur. Now in its 31st year, the cooperative has been successful in providing livelihoods to over 350 women. It is currently being managed by Jayrajben.
From 1971 to 1977 the area had a male-run dairy cooperative which closed down after going bankrupt. Jayrajben has been with the cooperative since its inception and had inaugurated it in 1991. Talking about the history of the milk cooperative, she says, “When SEWA members met the sarpanch in 1991 they proposed this women-run cooperative. The sarpanch replied by saying, “If men can’t run it, how can women do it?” He eventually agreed to the proposal but expected that the new cooperative will fail too.”
Little did they know, it was going to become a source of livelihood for over 300 women cattle farmers and their families. Talking about her personal journey at the cooperative, Jayrajben says, “I had left schooling after 7th standard and was a housewife before. I had tried my hand at farming but with little success. My husband used to work in the Ambica mill at Ahmedabad until it closed down, after which we came back to Pethapur. Our sons were in the 3rd and 6th standards and we were worried about their education.”
During the first six months, SEWA Cooperative Federation provided technical and financial support to incubate this new cooperative. Jayrajben says, “We learnt how to calculate, negotiate, and set our own prices for milk along with basic accounting. Through SEWA Cooperative Federation’s support, we also learnt the process of measuring the fat content of milk.”
She adds that getting work through the cooperative helped her immensely as she was able to support her children’s education. Jayrajben joined as a working mother, learnt new skills, and achieved self-reliance through SEWA Cooperative Federation’s capacity-building efforts. “Had it not been for SEWA, I never would have seen the outside world,” she said.
While her work involves managing daily operations of the cooperative, she currently also serves as a Board Member at the SEWA Cooperative Federation.capacity building
For more information on the cooperatives promoted by SEWA Cooperative Federation, read our report Advancing Cooperation Among Women Workers in the Informal Economy: The SEWA Way