INDONESIA - Developing countries across Asia would not have a functioning dairy sector without women playing a pivotal farm management role.
Numerous reports from the World Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in recent years have highlighted the importance of women in managing the milk herd and marketing the end product.
An FAO report into Pakistan’s dairy sector noted women as “responsible for most activities relating to animal management”.
However, FAO has noted that, as milk production becomes increasingly important to household income, the burden of responsibility placed on women wanes.
Despite this, the role of women is noteworthy, particularly so in Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Pakistan, according to dairy nutritionist Dr John Moran of Profitable Dairy Systems.
Dr Moran works with the FAO across the South East Asian region, recently focussing on Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
He told TheDairySite that a lack of grazing in the region means men spend most of the day collecting forage from roadsides and paddy fields.
“Women milk cows, feed calves and deliver milk – women are very important in dairying across Asia,” said Dr Moran. “Even in Muslim countries where women are kept down, they are the backbone of the industry.”
Production in these areas is characterised by small-holder and subsistence farming. There are big global dairies present as well as smaller local firms.
Dr Moran notes that there are increasing numbers of larger farms being developed to supplement small holder production.
“Indonesia has 100,000 dairy farmers but farms are typically between two and five milking cows,” he added. “Farmers are responsible for taking milk to collection centres. Nestle is very big and there are also local companies, for example Indomilk.
“Despite the fact that women play such an essential role in small holder dairying, it is often very hard to get them to come along to capacity building programmes that I run in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Thailand.
“The best way to get them along is to run "women only" programmes.
“Unlike the men, they often turn up in their "Sunday best" clothes, with their own note books ready to jot down the facts, and they don't require a "cigarette break" every hour or so – they’re very keen to learn something new.”
In Europe, the inequality of women in rural areas has also attracted debate. A European Commission report in 2012 pointed to huge country to country variation in the number of women with agricultural jobs.
Romania had the highest number of female employees in agriculture at over one third of the work force. At the other end of the scale were Belgium, Denmark, Malta, Sweden and the UK, all below one per cent.
Recently, the UK dairy industry added to a growing network of gender focused farming groups with the recent launch of Women in Dairy, a knowledge transfer and national networking organisation.
The initiative joins groups such as Women in Dairy Australia and the Dairy Women’s Network in New Zealand, both designed to recognise the importance of women and nurture their role in dairy farming.
Photo courtesy of Dr Moran, Profitable Dairy Systems