Asia | Smallholder farmers

Indian women open chicken feed factory

8 November 2020 19:03

A new factory in central India for pelleted poultry feed is bringing women from indigenous communities a step closer to economic and social empowerment. Its construction was partially funded by the largest loan ever provided by Rabo Foundation.

Indian smallholder female poultry farmer

A report published in April 2018 by McKinsey Global Institute estimates that boosting women’s participation in the Indian workforce could generate an 18% increase in the country’s gross domestic product. Coincidentally, in the same week as the report was published, a group of women poultry farmers opened a chicken feed pellet factory in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

“We are now the owners of our own business”

Earning EUR 2.5 million per year

The factory is owned by a federation of 10 poultry growers’ cooperatives (Madhya Pradesh Women Poultry Producers Company Private Limited, or MPWPCL). The village-based cooperatives have more than 6,000 members. The majority of the members have no formal education, and were classified by the Indian Government as living below the poverty line. Things have changed; in 2017 they collectively earned the equivalent of over EUR 2.5 million (USD 2.93 million).

Kunti Dhruve, President of the Kesla Poultry Cooperative, is enthusiastic about the change. “We are now the owners of our own business when we didn’t have anything to call our own,” she says. “Everything else is in name of our husbands. This is a dream we are seeing in our lifetime.”

Rabo Foundation support

Rabo Foundation has supported MPWPCL for almost a decade, providing grants, technical assistance, and industry knowledge. So it was a logical step for the Foundation to partner with Rabobank India to partially finance the factory’s construction. The EUR 1.2 million (USD 1.4 million) loan was matched by the cooperatives. It is the largest loan ever provided to a producer organization in India, and the largest loan facilitated in Rabo Foundation’s history.

The factory will support an integrated poultry production model that has made thousands of women business owners. Rabo Foundation, has watched the model develop, and seen a transformation in the lives of women, their families, and their communities. “Now that they are selling eggs or chickens, they are earning. That means they have a say in decisions. Previously some of these women could not read or write. Many are running a cooperative and learning business skills; they ask questions until they understand.”

Healthier chickens

Before the new factory was built, feed was produced in an outdated and inefficient facility. Grains were simply ground into a powder and then mixed. Now all ingredients are first heated to 80oC. This increases feed digestibility and decreases the amount of microbes, so that the chickens are healthier and grow faster.

“Using the pellets will greatly improve our feed conversion rate,” Dr Hare Krishna Deka, CEO of MPWPCL, explains. “We will need 150 grams less feed to produce a kilogram of bird. We produce 2,500 metric tons of chicken each month, so it represents a significant saving on input costs.”

Female empowerment

The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, officially opened the factory on 25 April. He praised MPWPCL and its members as symbols of female empowerment and a victory over poverty.
Indian philanthropist Ela Bhatt once said that “It is the women who are the leaders in change and without their participation poverty can never be removed”. And as the McKinsey report suggests, boosting women’s participation in the workforce will benefit the entire country.