Even as milk cooperatives in Maharashtra struggle for survival — many neck-deep in corruption and others unable to manage operations and give good procurement rates to dairy farmers — there’s one that going strong, thanks to Mahatma Gandhi.
Gosanwardhan Goras Bhandar, the milk cooperative in Wardha city started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1931, has beaten the odds, thanks to Gandhiji’s guidelines on how to run the operations. It offers a robust rate of ₹36 per litre of milk to dairy farmers.
Along with Vinoba Bhave and Jamnalal Bajaj, Mahatma Gandhi had started the milk cooperative for conservation and development of cows, recalled 80-year-old Devraoji Kasatvar, who heads the cooperative. Not only was that aim fulfilled, but the cooperative is also providing alternative revenue sources to farmers in Wardha, which falls in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, infamous for its farmer suicides.
The milk cooperative has formed 15 societies comprising about 1,000 farmers who rear cows. “On average, we collect 12,000-13,000 litres of cow milk daily from farmers at a procurement price of ₹36/l. We never reject milk brought by them, and our purchase rate is constant,” said Kasatvar.
Operations at the dairy are fully manual, with zero use of machinery. The board of directors believes strongly in the Mahatma’s idea of production by masses and not production for masses.
The cooperative doesn’t process milk but provides fresh milk to consumers in Wardha. It prepares goruspak (a sweet cake), ghee, peda, basundi, curd and paneer by order. Here, again, everything is manual. And a furnace, instead of gas stoves, is used for cooking.
“We have managed to run the cooperative based on Gandhiji’s principles. We don’t take any government money. Where there is government money, there is corruption,” said Kasatwar, who refused to comment on corruption in other milk cooperatives that fail to pay appropriate prices to dairy farmers.
After nearly nine decades of existence, though, the Gosanwardhan Goras Bhandar is gearing up to face some stiff challenges. More and more milk is coming in and there is a limit to what it can sell. Without machinery, the cooperative is struggling to produce milk products.
Last year it suffered losses and Kasatwar said this year Covid-19 has disturbed operations. “Also, we are not getting wood to run the furnace. At some point, we will have to think of using machines; otherwise, it would be challenging to survive in the future,” he rued.
However, he asserted, farmers and consumers will continue to be at the centre of operations and Gandhian values will continue to guide the cooperative.