Sundarini had a very humble beginning with about a hundred odd housewives and widows
‘Sundarini Naturals’, a milk cooperative exclusively run by women from the backward region of the Sunderbans in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, has bagged the top honours for producing milk in the country. That it has modelled itself on the Gujarat model of the famous milk cooperative Anand, goes without saying; yet within less than four years after the Sunderbans Milk and Animal Husbandry Production & Cooperative Sangh Ltd (SMAHPCSL) has begun its journey in that remote and poverty-stricken stretch of the Sunderbans, Sundarini Naturals has snatched the first prize from hundreds of milk cooperatives across India. Instituted by National Dairy Development Board, the feather in the hat of Sundarini has been the result of tireless hardwork by nearly three thousand women of varied ages spanning across several villages in this rickety riverine region.
It was on June 1 last that union agriculture and panchayat minister Purushottam Rupala handed over the top award to the SMAHPCSL authority at a glittering function at Anand in Gujarat as the Centre recognised the contribution ‘Sundarini’ made, within such a short period and declared it a role model for the milk cooperatives to follow. On the same day at New Delhi, the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) presented a cheque of Rs 25 lakh to SMAHPCSL for becoming the numero uno in India in the cooperative movement on milk and milk-based products. The award comes close on the heels the state government earning heaps of praise from the Centre in such key segments as 100-day work, Rural Awas Yojna and various other rural development programmes where participation of women is a sine qua non. However, to defeat such a developed state as Gujarat and that too in a milk cooperative model being run by women, is, indeed, an achievement that puts West Bengal ahead of many other states in women’s empowerment programme.
Christened in 2015 by chief minister Mamata Banerjee who wanted to change the course of lives of hundreds of poor women in the Sunderbans delta, Sundarini had a very humble beginning with about a hundred odd housewives and widows who trooped to the office of SMAHPCSL to get the feel of the hands-on job they were to be familiar with. Less than a month later, they fanned out across the neighbouring villages in the delta in boats and cycles to explain the `concept’ to the womenfolk so that they could turn their livelihood around.
Enthused by their counselling and determined to change their lot, nearly three thousand women of this impoverished region have begun smiling again, thanks to a sizeable market `Sundarini’ brand has so far been able to capture. According to SMAHPCSL managing director Ambika Prasad Mishra, these women have been engaged in producing not only milk and other dairy products, they have also been packaging locally produced rice, dal, egg and honey. “ All the products produced here strictly follow an ethnic process. While no chemical is mixed in the milk here, not a single cow is administered any anti-biotics for higher yield of milk. The fodder of the cow comprising maize, azola and a special type of grass among others, is produced in an organic manner,” he said.
This apart, milk gathered from the villagers is always tested before the final production and except steel, no plastic containers are used for storing milk. Milk thus collected, is then cooled in a scientific manner before its dispatch to the plant at Joynagar, about 14 kms, in South 24 Parganas district. Besides milk, the plant produces ghee, paneer and other dairy products which are packaged and sold under ‘Sundarini Naturals’ brand from various outlets of the animal husbandry and agriculture departments, Mishra said. Recently, the brand has opened an exclusive sales outlet at New Alipore in South Kolkata where the sale has constantly been spiralling. “The most innovative part that has fetched the brand the highest award, is the wide variety of products that are up for sale under Sundarini brand,” explained the product manager of National Dairy Development Board (Eastern Region) Sabyasachi Roy. “Milk and dairy products apart, it has been selling several other things which is a unique endeavour and with it are associated livelihood of so many downtrodden women. The choice of the award is hence, almost compelling.” The success of the Sundarini model has in fact, spurred other departments into action and the state agriculture minister Ashish Banerjee is keen to slowly replicate this model in different agri-sectors as well.
For instance, the state government which has been ramping up raw silk production in the state, is planning to add about 1,620 acres of cultivable land under sericulture production. "In 2017-18, we had extended plantation area for 1,733 acres covering all the four varieties of raw silk. The target of new area extension for mulberry is 1,000 acres, that for tasar is 400 acres, for muga it is 70 acres and 150 acres for eri in 2018-19 (FY19)," Banerjee said. About 2,577 metric tonne (mt) of raw silk including the four varieties was produced in by the seri-farmers and entrepreneurs in the state in FY 17-18. The production targets for raw silk in FY19 are 2,575 mt for mulberry, 46 mt for tasar, 6 mt for eri and 400 kgs of muga. Efforts are underway for plantation and maintenance of tasar in 83.3 acres, of mulberry in 21.33 acres and 400 mt of field channel excavation under MGNREGP, the rural job guarantee scheme, in FY 19.
While the average yearly bivoltine cocoon and bivoltine silk production were around 9 mt and 1 mt respectively in 2010-11, the yearly production shot up to 288.6 mt and 36 mt respectively in 2017-18.
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