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The integration of social and gender issues in smallholder dairy production

Smallholder mixed farming
Functions of livestock
Labour aspects of dairy development
Access to and control over resources
Consumption of dairy products
National market structure
International market situation
Training, extension and research
Farmers' organizations

N. Dieckmann

The author's address is: international Agricultural Centre Wageningen, the Netherlands.

Sowing improved fodder crops - Semis de plantes fourragères améliorées - Siembra de cultivos forrajeros mejorados

In the past, the approach to dairy development was to a large extent production-oriented. Targets defined in terms of quantities of milk produced or in quantities of dairy products available for the market had to be reached in line with government objectives such as responding to urban consumer demands, alleviating protein deficiencies, replacing imports and raising rural employment.

Programme experiences show that such an approach often failed for a variety of reasons:

· Large-scale production systems did not produce efficiently.

· Scarce public resources were allocated to large dairy farms that only produced a minor part of the national milk output.

· Programmes for smallholders were not based sufficiently on local conditions, practices, relations and values.

· Dairy projects did not pay enough attention to gender roles and relations. Despite the important role of women in the livestock production process, projects were directed towards men. The introduction of changes frequently resulted in high labour input by women, while at the same time their control over the production process and its output diminished.

Dairy development projects that were not specifically directed towards resource-poor farmers turned out to benefit mainly resource-rich farmers who had easier access to resources and could afford to experiment with new practices and to take some risks.

To arrive at more adaptable and sustainable development, all aspects of the farming system must be taken into account, as well as the context within which smallholders operate (Figure 1).

Resources are scarce and the agro-ecological situation is often vulnerable. Under these conditions farmers tend to follow a survival strategy: they are only prepared to adopt an innovation if they are reasonably convinced that they will not lose anything. Experience shows that any innovation is more acceptable to farmers if it involves a step-by-step development of the existing farming system.

The checklists presented in this article include both social and gender aspects to assist in project identification and the formulation of smallholder dairy production. They have been developed within the framework of the Social and Gender Analysis Training Programme of the FAO/United Nations Development Programme/World Bank and constitute a specific subject-matter addition to the Field manual on participatory project identification and formulation, in which the more general theoretical framework and methodology are presented.

Social and gender issues are included in a checklist in order to provide dairy development specialists who have received mainly technical professional training with an overview of these issues that must be taken into consideration during the identification and formulation phases of projects and programmes.

This article should be seen as an illustration of possible social and gender issues within the specific technical field. It has no pretensions of being complete. Nine issues in the field of dairy development were selected and the contents of these issues and their implications for project identification, formulation, implementation and evaluation are discussed briefly. The discussion is mainly restricted to direct effects on the target groups, but some indirect effects are also included. At the end of each section a short summary of the main information requirements is given, with an indication of where specific information might be obtained.

On some occasions it will not be possible to gather the information indicated in the checklists to its full extent during identification/formulation missions. Project formulators should therefore include a project component that consists of information-gathering activities (studies, interviews, etc.) during the implementation phase. The implementation phase should be flexible enough so as to allow the programme to be adjusted on the basis of new information and insights.

Smallholder mixed farming

Dairy development projects were often oriented towards large-scale dairy farms with imported high-grade cattle. Such projects frequently failed for technical, economic and management reasons; if they did not fail, their contribution to the creation of employment opportunities for the rural population remained small. Also public-sector resources, from subsidies to "concentrates", were frequently routed towards specialized livestock farms, leaving small farmers with little alternative but to buy expensive concentrates or accept declining milk production.

The modern livestock sector competed with smallholders for better quality land and for key seasonal grazing and water resources. Where the smallholders found themselves on the losing end, for example, through overgrazing, many who derived their livelihood from cattle raising risked losing their means of making a living.

At present donor attention is shifting towards the development of smallholder dairying within the framework of sustainable rural development. Dairy programmer should be set up in such a way that they can continue within the prevailing local conditions and with local management after donor inputs have ended.

Throughout the world most animals are raised in mixed farming systems, where livestock very often have different functions. Dairy activities should become an integral part of existing mixed farming systems, with opportunities to graze on fallow land, to use crop residues as feedstuff, to allow animals to browse on hedges and to use manure for biogas purposes and animals for traction. Local practices and expertise should be the bases for dairy development, using technologies that are economically feasible, socially acceptable and of low risk to farmers.

A special category of smallholder is the landless labourer who owns one or two dairy cows, a category that is dominant in Asia. These labourers must also be considered smallholders and should be included in dairy development programmes.

In many smallholder cattle-raising enterprises the role of women, which varies according to region, culture, class and caste, is crucial. Unfortunately, this is frequently insufficiently recognized, as is the usefulness of local lore and knowledge.

From the issues discussed above, a number of information needs are apparent, and these may be met by posing the questions in Checklist 1.

Checklist 1: Key questions for information needs when dealing with smallholder mixed farming

Information needs


Which categories of households/

· project reports

production units are engaged in/will


engage in dairy development activities?

· agro-ecological zoning

What are their characteristics?


Which farming systems exist?

· socio-economic field studies

Which links exist between the dairy

· interviews

activities and other agriculture-related


activities. Do activities in one realm have

· rural appraisal

functions for activities in the other?



· observation

Which practices concerning cattle


husbandry are common and accepted as

· key informants

"normal" by the community?


Were changes introduced over the past


number of years? Were these met with

· sector studies

resistance or were they successful?

· census

Functions of livestock

Milk production and marketing provide the household with a regular daily source of cash throughout the season/year, which can be used for small expenditures, while crop production results in a lump sum only after the harvest. Animals are not kept exclusively for milk production, however. Other possible functions are their use for draught, stock, manure, meat, hides, hair and wool. They can also be kept for investment purposes, which is an increasingly important consideration for livestock ownership, especially in countries with unstable economies.

Livestock are not only useful for their owners, but they may have benefits for non-livestock-keeping households as well. For instance, grazing on harvested plots of non-livestock owners may maintain or improve the fertility of the soil. In such cases, it is important to identify the relations between these households. Knowledge of the organization of these relationships is necessary: what are the rights and duties and the costs and benefits for each person or household?

With the proceeds from economically good years farmers tend to invest in animals for conversion into cash in adverse times. This attitude may also be the reason why the introduction of improved breeds meets with resistance on occasion. Local animals are better adapted to adverse conditions than high-bred ones and may survive longer when feed is scarce. As improved breeds are also considerably more expensive, the same amount of money would permit a farmer to buy more local animals and under conditions of stress the sale of a local animal would not reduce the capital to a large extent.

The importance of each function differs per situation and is related, among other things, to the farming system, production purposes and strategies and rights and duties of family members. Not surprisingly, considerable differences in interest may be found between men and women, which may lead to unexpected or at least unforeseen results.

The questions in Checklist 2 will serve to identify the different functions of livestock as well as any possible constraints and/or sources of tensions rooted in the farming system.

Checklist 2: Key questions to identify livestock functions

Information needs


What are the main functions of livestock?

· project reports

For which household/non-household

· interviews

members are these functions important and


why? In other words, who profits from which

· rural appraisal

function and to what extent?



· socio-economic

Which objectives do the people have as far

· research

as cattle holding is concerned? Can a


distinction be made between (categories of)

· interviews with key informants

people according to differences in





· observation

What strategies are being followed by


various categories of people to reach their




Do conflicting interests exist within the


household or between households?


What regulations/procedures exist to solve


these conflicts?


Can functions, tensions, interests and needs


be differentiated along gender lines?


1 Farm household system - Ménages agricoles - Sistema de explotaciones agrícolas

Group discussing progress and future plans - Débat de groupe sur les progrès réalisés et les activités à venir - Un grupo examine los progresos y los planes futuros

Photos/Fotos: M. Henriksen

Labour aspects of dairy development

Milk production implies a basic and compulsory daily routine of milking, feeding, watering and taking care of the animals. Other major activities related to milk production are the production, harvesting and cutting of fodder crops and the processing, marketing and transport of inputs and outputs.

Seasonal differences in feeding, watering and milking have to be taken into account as well as seasonal changes in the labour input of different household members and their relationship to other farm and non-farm activities. In some cases paid labourers are used incidentally, in others they are used permanently.

In addition to increased investments, many improvements require extra labour. It is essential to verify whether this extra labour is available and whether other activities need to be abandoned as a result. The consequences for the household unit must also be established. It is most important to determine whether the labour input is sufficiently rewarded and whether the additional benefits revert to those who provided the extra labour. In countries where women traditionally sell milk, they can be deprived of that source of income when a cooperative is set up that entitles only its members (i.e. the men) to collect the sales revenues. To avoid such situations, women should be allowed to become members of the cooperatives.

Labour constraints can be overcome to some extent by the introduction of labour-saving devices, such as mills, animal traction, water-collecting systems and grass-cutting implements.

The availability of labour, capital and land (both quality and quantity) in a given situation determines to a large extent which cattle management system is the most appropriate:

· zero-grazing

intensive system

· tethering


· paddocking


· herding

extensive system

Different systems require different land, labour and capital inputs, and they also vary in quantities of milk produced. Special attention should be paid to the role of women in this respect. As part of their domestic, agricultural and community duties, women often perform important tasks related to dairy husbandry, including looking after the animals, feeding and watering, cleaning sheds and milking and processing. Measures aimed at improving aspects of dairying should take into consideration the often serious time constraints women face.

Dairy development activities aimed at smallholders-where milk production is labour-intensive - may contribute to both income and employment generation, especially when milk production is combined with small-scale processing and marketing. Increased income and purchasing power can lead to spin-off effects in terms of income and employment within other sectors of the community.

The questions in Checklist 3 will help to identify the time involved in various dairy activities, whether the workload can be reduced and whether alternative ways of generating income would be more profitable.

Checklist 3: Key questions to identify the time involved in dairy activities

Information needs


Who is responsible for which activities?

· project reports

What is the actual workload of these people

· interviews

(household, agriculture, livestock, wage labour)?


Which activities can be reduced or delegated to

· rural appraisal

another person? Who decides about labour




Is it possible to introduce labour-saving devices?

· socio-economic research reports

What is the cost-benefit ratio?


What benefits do people receive in exchange for

· labour profiles and calendars

the extra workload?


Are alternative ways of generating income




What are the opportunity costs of unpaid labour


in dairy production?


Access to and control over resources

The accessibility of major resources such as land, water, livestock and capital determines to what extent (categories of) people can participate in dairy development activities. Participation not only means taking part in the work, but also being in the position to take management decisions concerning the allocation of resources and the production process itself.

Women and the rural poor are less likely to have control over resources. Constraints must be identified and special strategies to overcome these should be developed. Land, water and capital are major resources and the rights to them are intricately interwoven with the social structure of the community. The ownership of cattle and/or its use is another realm with a variety of arrangements.


In developing countries different kinds of land-use rights and forms of land ownership exist. It is of vital importance that a certain degree of security of land tenure and/or grazing rights exists on communal or public land, to ensure that farmers will be willing to invest in dairy development. If, for example, farmers have a short-term right to land, they will not be willing to invest in fodder trees, which will be profitable only in the longer term.

Where agricultural land is scarce, careful land-use planning should prevent dairy development from leading to land-use conflicts or environmental degradation.


As water is needed for livestock as well as for milk processing, its year-round availability near the farm is an important issue. Water sources that are located far from the farm, even for only part of the year, lead to very high labour inputs, frequently also by children.

Encouraged, motivated and organized, women can easily perform traditionally men's jobs - Des femmes encouragées, motivées et organisées peuvent facilement exécuter des tâches traditionnellement masculines - Animadas, motivadas y organizadas, las mujeres pueden realizar fácilmente trabajos que tradicionalmente correspondían a los hombres

Chopping napier grass for silage - Broyage de l'herbe à éléphant pour l'ensilage - La hierba elefante se pica pare hacer ensilaje


Different forms of livestock ownership and rights to use animal products exist. The sharing of animals is one way through which smallholders have the opportunity to obtain milk from cattle. For women, the sharing of animals is a primary means of obtaining productive resources without being dependent on cash for new production activities. Neither do they need to enter into credit bonds, which require payments at fixed intervals.

The wealthier strata of the community rent out animals while the poorer strata accept them from others. The former profit from the arrangement as they retain ownership without having the responsibility for the day-to-day care of the animals while receiving part of the revenue. The heifer-in-trust scheme, that is, accepting an in-calf heifer with the obligation of returning the firstborn female calf, is another way disadvantaged groups may participate in milk production activities.


It is generally more difficult for disadvantaged groups to apply for bank loans since they lack collateral. Local moneylenders are reluctant to loan money for the purchase of animals. Special credit schemes may be necessary in addition to heifer-in-trust schemes. It is not always desirable to create credit schemes within a project framework. Other institutions, more specialized in this subject, may already have special credit schemes for disadvantaged groups or may be willing to create these.

The questions in Checklist 4 may help to analyse access to and control over major natural and capital resources for different categories of people.

Checklist 4: Key questions to analyse access to and control over natural and capital resources

Information needs



· interviews

Is additional agricultural land available? For whom


(gender)? At what conditions?

· key informants

Which persons have use rights/ownership to

· rural appraisal

land? Against which conditions? For which period


of time?

· project reports

Is communal/public grazing land available? For

· field studies

whom? At what conditions? What is its carrying



· consultancies

Is sustainable intensification of the existing

· policy documents

farming system possible?



· observation

Is it possible to develop strategies for access to


land for disadvantaged groups?



Is water available throughout the year? In what


quantities? For which purposes?


Where is the source located?


Are there any restrictions on water use?



How is ownership of livestock arranged?


Which persons have which rights to the Use of


animal products? Who is in charge of processing


and marketing? What are the consequences for


dairy development?



What is the amount of money required for


participation in dairy development activities?


Is it possible for poor farmers and women to


obtain a bank loan?


Do special credit schemes exist for


disadvantaged groups?


Would it be desirable to create such schemes?


Consumption of dairy products

Dairy products are a source of high-quality animal protein. They are highly valued but not strictly necessary for a full and balanced diet. Governments might wish to develop milk production in order to increase the availability of protein-rich food for the rural population and income-generating possibilities for farmers, as well as the availability of dairy products (and/or substitute imports) for urban consumers.

Traditional beliefs and values may restrict the consumption of milk and other dairy products by certain categories of people.

Distribution of milk products within families does not always correspond with the need for protein-rich food of certain family members such as pregnant and nursing women. In areas where milk production takes place mainly for subsistence purposes, the establishment of milk collection and marketing points may lead to a lower consumption of dairy products within the household. To counteract this effect, a solution might be to collect only the morning milk, leaving the evening milk for consumption within the household/community.

There is a correlation between the consumption of dairy products and income levels: middle- and higher-income groups are the main consumers of milk and milk products. Demand for milk is highest in urban areas whereas production takes place mainly in rural areas, which indicates that dairy development could be an excellent way of transferring funds from urban to rural areas. The higher-income groups, which consume more milk, profit most from low milk prices or milk subsidies.

Nutritional or social objectives should be realized through special nutrition programmes for vulnerable groups. Dairy development should only have one economic objective: increasing the income of small farmers.

The questions in Checklist 5 are related to consumption aspects of dairy development discussed in this section.

Checklist 5: Key questions to define the structure of dairy product consumption patterns

Information needs


What is the consumption pattern of milk

· nutritional consumption

and dairy products, per age group, gender


and class and in rural/urban areas?

· studies

Are there any taboos or other barriers

· interviews

preventing milk consumption?


policy documents


What will be the impact of a dairy


development programme on the patterns

· market studies

of milk consumption?


Does the government have nutritional or

· discussion with policy-makers or donors

social objectives for dairy development?


Can these objectives be met by special




National market structure

The national market structure, with its prices, policies, services and marketing possibilities, determines whether or not dairy activities are economically viable.


Farmers should receive reasonable prices for their produce to enable them to cover labour inputs, investments and development costs. If governments keep their prices too low, with a view to satisfying consumer interests, production will diminish or stop and farmers may choose alternative ways of generating income. To discourage this, the use of an acceptable pricing formula is recommended. Apart from seasonal fluctuations, the pricing system should remain reliable for a period of time, as dairy development requires longer-term investments.


A regular and reliable milk collection system and/or a secure market are of vital importance. An organized collection system will only be efficient when a certain level of milk production has been reached in a region. The demand for milk and milk products needs to be verified for different production levels.

The marketing channels for milk should be as short as possible, as each step - consumer, retailer, distributor, factory, cooling centre, collecting point, intermediary and farmer - entails a price increase. The more control farmers and their organizations have over the whole marketing chain, the more they will profit and the more they will be willing to invest in dairy development.


Apart from good prices and reliable markets, dairy development requires additional services such as input supply, artificial insemination, bull centres, veterinary services and an integrated information system. Sometimes it is difficult for women and poor farmers to have access to these services and special measures are required to include these groups in the process. On- the other hand, women may find employment opportunities in the production and/or marketing of such inputs as feed, concentrates and equipment.

The reliability, cost and proximity of services are important considerations for the farmer. These services used to be fully provided for by governments, but today there is a trend in many countries towards privatization, which could affect the quality and accessibility of these services.

"Barefoot veterinarians" may help reduce the costs of veterinary services, making them more accessible. Women could be trained for this purpose, which would also facilitate access to veterinary services for other women.

Cost-benefit analysis

Cost-benefit analyses of such factors as technology levels, material and non-material inputs, number of animals and paid and unpaid labour should be made before dairy development programmes are introduced. This may help to identify what dairy production system is most profitable for which farming system. The questions in Checklist 6 may help to determine whether the existing national market situation is favourable for dairy development.

Checklist 6: Key questions to analyse the national milk market

Information needs


What are the current prices for dairy products?

· market studies

What are the seasonal fluctuations of prices?

· statistics

How high is the demand? How elastic is it?

· interviews

Where is it located?



· project reports

What are the costs of inputs and investments?



· rural appraisal

What are the costs of paid labour? What are the


opportunity costs of unpaid labour?

· key informants

What are the distances to the collection centres


markets and services?


What are the costs of these services? What is


their quality?


Are services equally accessible to


disadvantaged groups (men/women)? What are


the constraints? How can they be lifted?


International market situation

In the past, milk production was concentrated mainly in the industrial countries, with one-quarter of the world population and three-quarters of total milk output. These countries followed highly protectionist policies that hampered milk production in developing countries (Figure 2).

Cheap imports and food aid kept national milk prices low, which discouraged local farmers from engaging in milk production or in activities to improve the production process. During the second half of the 1980s, however, the international situation changed. Industrial countries introduced a quota system and reduced subsidies, which resulted in lower production levels, reduced stocks and sharp increases in costs of raw material for the recombining of milk. This made milk production in developing countries with reasonable potential increasingly feasible.

The questions in Checklist 7 may help to analyse the existing international market situation with respect to dairy products and the effect on the supply and prices of national markets.

Checklist 7: Key questions to analyse the international milk market

Information needs


What are national dairy imports (quantity/

· national/FAO statistics




· interviews

What is the quantity and value of dairy


products in food aid?

· key informants

What are the national and regional milk


production rates?


What are the milk prices per region and per




Is it feasible for farmers to invest in dairy




Training, extension and research

Training and extension

Training and extension in dairy development should be based on the knowledge and skills of the different categories of the target group. Indigenous technical knowledge of farmers, both male and female, especially of technologies and practices requiring little external input, is often not sufficiently recognized or appreciated.

Training and extension should also be based on the problems and priorities of target groups. The relevance of training and extension can be increased by allowing representatives of female and male smallholders to participate in defining contents and strategies of dairy development programmes.

Training and extension should be directed towards those people who do the actual work. While the bulk of the work related to dairy production is done by women, the majority of participants in dairy training centres are often men, since extension workers tend to contact men. Even though men do pass on some of the information obtained to the women in the household and inform them about skills, the process is very inefficient and results in a considerable loss of information. Personnel in training and extension services will arrive at incorrect conclusions about training and information needs if they communicate only with a part of the target group.

Since income from milk is frequently the major source of revenue for women, they may be more motivated than men to adopt technical innovations. In many cases extension workers have been able to pay attention to the specific role of women and to insist that women receive training if their regular activities so demand. In areas where it is socially difficult for men to contact female farmers, special efforts should be made to train and employ female extension workers and trainers. Priority should also be given to strategies that enable women to carry out their tasks in the field without impediments, such as provision of transport, working in couples and village-based extension workers.

The timing, duration and location of training activities and of extension contacts should be discussed with the target groups.

Training and extension services should keep close contact with farmers and their organizations, as well as with research, credit, input supply and veterinary services and any other organizations involved in dairy development. Institutional cooperation can greatly improve achievements in the field. Channels of communication can be developed between all organizations involved in dairy development to facilitate the exchange of information and to adapt policies and strategies so that development efforts are mutually reinforcing.


Research is often directed more towards general animal science than at smallholders' problems, and towards technical issues rather than at all relevant aspects of the total production system. Participation of male and female smallholders in defining the research agenda will improve the relevance of research for these groups.

The questions in Checklist 8 may help to identify the degree to which training, extension and research can be adapted to the different categories of people involved in dairy farming.

Checklist 8: Key questions to identify training, extension and research needs for dairy farming

Information needs


Which categories of people do which tasks in

· labour profiles

milk production?



· rapid appraisal

What are their main problems?



· interviews

What are the research priorities?



· observation

What are the training and information needs of


these groups?



· field studies

How can they best be reached?

· socio-economic research

Does participation of women require specific



· project reports

What can be done to raise the number of female


extension workers active in the field?


Farmers' organizations

Farmers' organizations can play a vital role in the dairy development process. Input-supply organizations may grow to become centres for such services as artificial insemination, bulls, veterinary assistance, extension, training, milk collection and processing and marketing of animal and dairy products. Such organizations may also be used to channel surplus labour towards activities requiring extensive labour. At least some of the members of the organization should be literate and farmer committee members will need to be trained in management and administration.

Well-organized farmers' groups may- also have the function of channelling the interests of their members and making these known in political circles. Likewise, cooperatives may exert influence on the establishment of research priorities or on the outlining of extension and training strategies.

Farmers' organizations should not be imposed on by governments; they should be based on local initiative, with some help and encouragement from external sources. Women's participation should be encouraged, although in some situations, where in public men and women are separated, it may be necessary to create "women only" cooperatives.

The questions in Checklist 9 help to identify which farmers' organizations exist and what functions they have or can develop.

Checklist 9: Key questions to analyse farmers' organizations and their functions

Information needs


Do farmers' organizations exist?

· interviews

What are their functions?

· project reports

How did they come into existence?

· discussions with target group/policy-makers

What are the barriers to membership of women?


What are the strategies to overcome these?


Do farmers' organizations fulfil a political role as


representatives of farmers' interests?


What strategies can he developed to obtain this role?


2 Structure of the international milk market - Structure du marché laitier international - Estructura del mercado internacional de la leche

Small-scale milk production is a family business - La production laitière artisanale est une affaire de famille - La producción de leche en pequeña escala es una actividad familiar

Women traditionally take care of dairy cows - Traditionnellement, les femmes soignent les vaches laitières - Las mujeres se ocupan tradicionalmente de las vacas lecheras

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