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Click on the photos to read each farmers story

Mahadev - Srinivasapura BMC, Mandya District

Early in his life, Mahadev decided that he would rather be a cattle farmer than an agriculturist. As he milks his cows in Channapanadoddi village, his bright smile affirms that he made the right choice.

For many years Mahadev supplied milk to Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF) and was happy with the price that he received for his produce. However, as local politics changed the way the co-operative was run in his area, his experience soured, and he decided to partner with MYA instead.

Now a Milk Route producer for over 13 months, he has continually expanded his herd from eight to 21 cows and supplies 140 litres of milk every day. His wife, Nalina, is also the village milk collection center (MCC) supervisor, and Mahadev is very supportive of her role. “I feel happy and proud that my wife is an equal and earning member of the family,” he says, “and by saving income from her supervisory role, Nalina has been able to purchase some gold as well!”

Mahadev feels that there is a noticeable difference in the experiences of supplying milk to KMF and MYA. He points out that the field staff at MYA is more approachable and pleasant to interact with. He also believes the cattle feed is of excellent quality and appreciates its on-time delivery. Operation Milk Rich - MYA’s initiative to help farmers improve dairy yields - has benefitted him tremendously by providing education on feeding practices. “Earlier we would just go and dump food in front of the cow, but now we know how much should be fed based on the weight of the cow,” he said, noting that this change in practice has also helped him save on veterinary costs.

Mahadev is not without his concerns, and fears that any drop in prices will make it impossible to cover more advanced costs like artificial insemination and more nutrient rich cattle feeds. If that were to happen, he is afraid that falling prices will force him to sell his cows - a very tough decision for a man who, many years ago, followed his calling to become a dairy farmer.

Sandeep - Srinivasapura BMC, Mandya District

Ever since their father went missing six years ago, life has not been easy for 22-year-old Sandeep, his mother Sakkamma, and his younger siblings. They have made it through these difficult times thanks to their sheer determination. Today they grow paddy, sugarcane and "ragi" (millet) on their four acres of land, and their four cows produce a bountiful 40-45 litres of milk per day.

However, their financial situation has not always been so stable. Three years ago the family took a sizeable loan to construct a "pucca" (permanent) house, pay for their sister's wedding, and send the youngest son, Harish, to engineering college in Bangalore. These heavy financial burdens forced Sandeep to sell milk to a dairy company that he felt took advantage of him. The company rarely paid on time, and Sandeep worried for the future.

MYA offered Sandeep and his family an opportunity for financial stability. With MYA's high quality cattle feed and education about the best ways to increase long-run productivity, Sandeep estimates that his cows' milk output has increased by at least 1.5 litres per day.

An agriculturist at heart, he still sees cattle rearing only as a supplementary source of income and prefers working the land to provide stable income for the household. Nevertheless, after joining MYA 13 months ago, he has been able to purchase two additional cows to bring the total count to four, and has paid off more than half of the family's debts. Sandeep's ambition to see a better life for himself and his family has already allowed them to overcome great obstacles and put them back on the path to stability.

Manjuamma - Jodi Krishnapura, BMC Kolar District

Two years ago, Belluru village resident Manjuamma was forced to work as a coolie to pay for her daughter Yashodaya's education. Illiterate herself, it was the only job Manjuamma could find, and she was determined to see her children go to college and have better career options. Although she and her family owned four cows, they did not produce enough milk for dairy income to be reliable in a way that allowed Manjuamma to pay school fees up front. Manjuamma remembers the constant trade-offs she would have to make: paying school fees sometimes meant forgoing food for her family. Week after week, she would hope to make ends meet through a combination of income from milk sales and the coolie work.

All of this changed after Manjuamma and her family started working with Milk Route. Thanks to the MYA staff's expert advice and access to high quality cattle feed, Manjuamma's cattle dramatically increased their dairy yield -- so much so that the family has earned enough to buy a fifth cow. Manjuamma has now gladly given up the coolie job and spends her time washing, feeding, and milking the family's cows. She is happy that dairy is her primary livelihood and that it has given her a steady income.

Now 21, Yashodaya has completed her B.Ed degree and shall soon start teaching in a private school in a nearby village. Manjuamma is now also sending her son to school, and is encouraging him to concentrate on subjects that will open new opportunities for him. While not forthcoming about her own personal aspirations, she says she is very happy working with Milk Route, and proud that it has given her the ability to support her children's dreams.

Dilshaad - Vemgal BMC, Kolar District

Despite facing tremendous difficulties in her life, Dilshaad's unwavering faith has kept her strong in the face of adversity. Her husband Muhammad has been disabled for the last 15 years, and ever since his accident the 60 year-old woman has shouldered the responsibility of raising 11 children and three grandchildren. The large family lives in a 3-room house funded through a local government program. Dilshaad has supported the family by doing odd jobs such as manual labor, silkworm picking, and maize cutting on nearby farms. However, she only finds work 10 to 15 days a month, and is paid one hundred rupees for a day's work. Her two older sons - a carpenter and a welder - earn enough so that the family can scrape by.

Fifteen months ago, Dilshaad started working with Milk Route. She is atypical of the farmers in the area and owns only one buffalo. The buffalo gives a meager five liters of milk each day, all of which she sells at the nearby collection center. She says that the MYA team has taught her about feeding practices, and has made special feed available to her. If she consistently gave her buffalo this feed, it would likely increase the amount of milk produced. Dilshaad, however, is wary of spending any more than she has to in order to care for the animal. Right now, she is content selling the milk to MYA and this income has helped to supplement the household's earnings and brought a little added security to a critical situation.

Though she never went to school herself, Dilshaad believes education is the key to a bright future and is determined that all her children receive a good education. She wishes to continue working with Milk Route and gradually earn more money. "With more money I can educate my children and get them married," she said. "I have no other wish."

Nagarathamma - Jodi Krishnapura BMC, Kolar District

At 42, Nagarathamma is a woman who is very content with what she has. Her family owns approximately five acres of irrigated land near Belluru where they grow a large variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. She has three children attending schools that she can afford, and she is hopeful about their futures.

Nagarathamma has not always been so content. For many years, her family supplied milk from their six cows to Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF), the only dairy company in her area at the time. The family, however, was frequently frustrated by the political interference and delay in payments. When Milk Route moved into her area, Nagarathamma quickly opted to sell milk into this new system.

She has now been with MYA for two years. Not only is she pleased with MYA's straightforward and timely payments, she feels that MYA's support services have helped her family improve their cattle feeding practices. Thanks to a mix of knowledge sharing and on-site training by MYA field staff, Nagarathamma has seen her cows increase their productivity to the current levels of 65 litres of milk per day

Though the family is primarily reliant on fruit and vegetable farming for the bulk of its income, the seasonality of the sales make it difficult to rely solely on this income stream throughout the year. Nagarathamma says that the money received from the sale of milk steadies their finances so they are able to save for bigger agricultural expenses such as buying seeds, fertilizers, and renting tractors. She is very grateful for these opportunities and hopes to expand her agricultural activities in the future.

Varalaxmi - Bangarpet BMC, Kolar District

Varalaxmi is a farmer who lives in the Jyotinhalli village in the district of Kolar in the state of Karnataka, India. Before she started working in MYA's Milk Route network 15 months ago, Varalaxmi, her husband Naryanappa, and 2 children - Archana and Prashant - lived uncomfortably in a house with a straw and thatch roof. The family owned three cows, but struggled to sell the milk to a cooperative that was located more than 1 km from their village. Often, Naryanappa would make the trek to the collection center, with milk in hand, but the center would keep unpredictable hours and many times would be closed. Even on the days it was open, Naryanappa felt he wasn't being compensated fairly. It was difficult for the family to count on milk production as a steady source of income.

Since they have started selling milk to Milk Route, the family's monthly income has increased by 25%. Varalaxmi and Naryanappa now bring home Rs. 8,400 for the household each month. Varalaxmi also works as a cook and brings home an additional Rs. 1,000 per month. Together they are earning more for their family than they had previously dreamed.

Varalaxmi now happily reports that the dairy activity is the household's primary livelihood. MYA's milk collection center is located in the village, and is much more easily accessible. Varalaxmi says she is treated well by the center staff. Since switching over to Milk Route, "cattle rearing has become more profitable for us, and now we would like to buy more cows," Naryanappa says. The family has been steadily saving, and hopes to purchase more cows in the coming months.

With the extra income, Naryanappa fixed up the house: the family now lives in a 3-room house with brick walls and a cement roof. Varalaxmi is quick to point out that his house now also has an electricity connection! They also regularly buy seeds and fertilizer to grow potato, tomato and "ragi" (millet) crops, as another source of income. Prashant and Archana are now regularly attending school - 9th and 11th standards, respectively -- and have hopes of pursuing higher education.

Munniyappa - Bangarpet BMC, Kolar District

Munniyappa and Munnivenkatamma, a middle-aged couple, live on five acres of land in Jyotinhalli where they grow "ragi" (millet) and green fodder to eat and feed their cattle. Scarce water in the area makes it tough to grow cash crops such as rice or vegetables, leaving them solely dependent on their cattle for their livelihood. However, as the owners of two cows pouring an average 22 liters of milk each day, their status as farmers in MYA's network has given them an opportunity to pursue a viable livelihood.

Before selling to MYA, Munniyappa and Munnivenkatamma sold their milk to a private dairy for Rs 17.5 per liter. The harbored a bitterness toward the only buyer in their area, feeling that they were regularly taken advantage of by the company. Each month they estimated they were not paid for at least 16 liters of milk due to inaccurate reporting or faulty measurement at the chilling plant. Consequently, they were excited when MYA appeared in their area with a commitment to on-time payments and honest pricing that paid Rs. 19.5 per liter. Munnivenkatamma was blunt in her assessment of the difference. "MYA provides better support to us, and their payment is transparent," she said.

MYA not only pays more per liter of milk, but also provides other benefits such as veterinary services and high-quality cattle feed. Munniyappa saw their cows increase milk production by two liters a day after they began eating the higher-quality cattle feed made available through MYA.

Since becoming working with MYA a year and a half ago, Munniyappa and Munnivenkatamma's total monthly income has grown to Rs. 12,870 - enough for them to save and invest in their farm. Along with the money their only child, Venkatraju, occasionally sends home from his factory job, the couple can say for the first time that they are living comfortably and can truly plan for a better future.

Lakshamma - Bangarpet BMC, Kolar District

Lakshamma, a 38 year-old widow in Sanganhalli, a village in rural Karnataka, struggled for years to support her three children on her income from cattle rearing. Since she does not receive any widow pension from the government, her family depends solely on the cattle for their regular income.

Her daily routine involved trudging 1.5 kms each morning to sell milk to the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF) milk collection center (MCC), but she often felt she was shortchanged. The MCC frequently weighed the milk inaccurately, especially when the electricity was out. KMF paid her at most Rs. 16.5 per liter, and payment was often delayed by three to four days. Lakshamma also complained that it was difficult to go to the MCC while taking care of her young children. "The MCC was far, and I couldn't leave my kids at home alone. It was especially difficult when it rained," she said.

A little over a year ago, Lakshamma had the chance to begin selling milk to MYA and she jumped at the opportunity. MYA pays her Rs. 19.5 per liter, and Lakshamma feels the payments are fair and timely. Lakshamma now feeds her cow and calf the high-quality MYA cattle feed, and she's noticed her cow has increased milk production by one to two liters a day. The cow produces eight liters of milk a day, and Lakshamma's income has risen to Rs. 4,800 per month.

MYA's other services have also helped Lakshamma a great deal. She has taken an advance of Rs. 3,000 to 5,000 to help her cover her expenses. She finds the veterinary services particularly useful. "Earlier there was no vet here. Sometimes government vets would come from Bangarpet, which is 20 kms away," she explained. Now Lakshamma has consistent and easy access to veterinary services.

Lakshamma and her children currently live in a mud house with a tiled roof, with very few possessions. On three acres of land, she grows "ragi" (millet) and green fodder for household consumption, and occasionally can make a little extra income if there is any leftover green fodder she can sell. However, working with MYA has allowed Lakshamma to dream big for her children: 13 year-old Bhuvanesh, seven year-old Kavya, and five year-old Bhargavi. Lakshamma is determined to give a good education to her children, and they all attend the local government school. When asked what she plans to do with her increased income from MYA, she muses, "Maybe I'll build a 'pucca' (permanent) house and buy gold to give my daughters for their weddings. I'll also make sure my son goes on to higher studies."

Gowramma - Nagavalli BMC, Tumkur District

Gowramma, who lives in a small house in Banavara village with her husband, son, daughter, and parents, is proud to contribute to the family's income through her work with MYA. The family owns two cows and used to sell milk to another local dairy, but they were never happy with the company. When Gowramma learned of MYA's Milk Route operation two years ago, she immediately signed up.

She now earns a reasonable income selling around 25 litres of milk a day to Milk Route. Gowramma also acts as a Milk Collection Center (MCC) Supervisor for MYA, and though it means additional responsibilities, she loves the role. Every day she oversees the local MCC by aggregating milk from her neighbors, noting the milk quantity and quality, checking the milk temperature, and maintaining the equipment. She also ensures that her neighbors are fairly and reliably compensated.

"The job of an MCC Supervisor allows me to earn more for my family, which is a great source of satisfaction. I am content and happy with this role," she says, smiling. She had been a little apprehensive at first because she felt that her neighbors may treat her differently. Would the role of supervisor strain her friendships? Thankfully, however, her entire community has been supportive, and she assures us that she is given no special treatment in her village.

Gowramma's experience with MYA has been very different from the other dairy, she says. The MYA staff goes above and beyond, and has trained her on the best milking and milk storage practices, as well as taught her how to properly care for and feed her cows. Gowramma has passed this knowledge on to her neighbors, which has positioned her as an expert in her village.

After her promotion to Supervisor, she used her additional income to buy an electric mixer for the kitchen and is considering buying a new sari and a few more cooking vessels. First, however, she is committed to paying for her children's education. Her experience with Milk Route has made Gowramma more optimistic about the future. While the younger generation used to dream of moving away from villages and into the cities, she insists that her own two children stay right here and contribute to the well-being of the village. She believes they can earn a healthy living from farming activities and lead a comfortable life.

Gowramma - Nagavalli BMC, Tumkur District

Gowramma, who lives in a small house in Banavara village with her husband, son, daughter, and parents, is proud to contribute to the family's income through her work with MYA. The family owns two cows and used to sell milk to another local dairy, but they were never happy with the company. When Gowramma learned of MYA's Milk Route operation two years ago, she immediately signed up.

She now earns a reasonable income selling around 25 litres of milk a day to Milk Route. Gowramma also acts as a Milk Collection Center (MCC) Supervisor for MYA, and though it means additional responsibilities, she loves the role. Every day she oversees the local MCC by aggregating milk from her neighbors, noting the milk quantity and quality, checking the milk temperature, and maintaining the equipment. She also ensures that her neighbors are fairly and reliably compensated.

"The job of an MCC Supervisor allows me to earn more for my family, which is a great source of satisfaction. I am content and happy with this role," she says, smiling. She had been a little apprehensive at first because she felt that her neighbors may treat her differently. Would the role of supervisor strain her friendships? Thankfully, however, her entire community has been supportive, and she assures us that she is given no special treatment in her village.

Gowramma's experience with MYA has been very different from the other dairy, she says. The MYA staff goes above and beyond, and has trained her on the best milking and milk storage practices, as well as taught her how to properly care for and feed her cows. Gowramma has passed this knowledge on to her neighbors, which has positioned her as an expert in her village.

After her promotion to Supervisor, she used her additional income to buy an electric mixer for the kitchen and is considering buying a new sari and a few more cooking vessels. First, however, she is committed to paying for her children's education. Her experience with Milk Route has made Gowramma more optimistic about the future. While the younger generation used to dream of moving away from villages and into the cities, she insists that her own two children stay right here and contribute to the well-being of the village. She believes they can earn a healthy living from farming activities and lead a comfortable life.

HP Sidharaju - Nagavalli BMC, Tumkur District

Like many of the farmers that supply milk into the Milk Route operation, Sidharaju is very pleased with the attentive service he receives from MYA's staff.

"In the past, I sold milk to two other local dairies," says Sidharaju. "Milk Route has given us the best service. If my milk output is less than usual for a few days, somebody from MYA immediately gets in touch with me and asks if they can help diagnose a problem." Since partnering with Milk Route one year ago, Sidharaju has benefited greatly from MYA's service and has used his additional income to purchase new clothes for his wife, son, and parents and has also purchased a color television and dish antenna. It means a lot to him that the MYA staff seem to genuinely care about his livelihood and well-being.

MYA's presence in his village has not only improved his dairy livelihood, it has also helped Sidharaju enhance the productivity of his land. The family owns two acres of land on which he and his wife, Mamata, grow ragi (millet), paddy, betel nut, coconut, banana, and maize. The Milk Route bulk milk chilling (BMC) facility sits about 12 km away and runs on three-phased power. The facility transmits the electricity to nearby fields to help out local farmers.

"The three-phase power from this facility provides 24 hours of electricity to my farm, and we never had access like this before," says Sidharaju. "There is no voltage fluctuation, and it runs smoothly. We can even use it at night for irrigating our farms."

Income from the sale of milk, fruits, and vegetables has allowed Sidharaju to better plan for the family's future. He once worried about how he would take care of his aging parents-who are illiterate and do not work-and his infant son, Ulhaas. With MYA's continued support, he is confident that he can make a good living as a farmer and also afford creature comforts that until recently seemed so far out of reach.