Giving women a voice in the dairy industry

Naitasiri Women in Dairy Group (NWDG) was established in June 2017 by a group of women dairy farmers to share farming knowledge, issues, challenges and experiences encountered as women in a traditionally male dominated industry. The  NWDG comprises of 33 women who own or manage family run dairy farms in the province of Naitasiri on Viti Levu. Working collectively, the group aims to improve daily milk production and sustain income to enhance livelihoods of its members.

The group has received  support and technical assistance from stakeholders such as the Ministry of Agriculture for veterinarian services. The NWDG began when women dairy owners and managers decided to help fellow women dairy farmers who had fewer resources and needed assistance on their farms to become fully fledged dairy farmers. The group has organised themselves into working groups and meet every Monday to work on a member’s farm, weeding paddocks and planting grass for cows.

The Group’s primary focus is Women’s Economic Empowerment. Since implementation of the project with the Fiji Women’s Fund (the Fund), the group have also shown progress in the other Fund thematic areas of Leadership and Decision Making and Strengthening Women’s Groups and Coalitions.

Prior to the assistance from the Fund, women would walk 2-3 kilometres from their homes to a selected farm to work, have lunch and meet and discuss group activities and finances. Through support from the Fund they now travel by truck to their work site saving them time, enabling them to do more work on their farms and return home early.

The Fund also assisted the group to purchase equipment and protective wear such as gumboots and raincoats for the women, and funded the construction of can stands at each member’s farm. These small structures are where milk cans
are placed for collection by Fiji Dairy Limited.

“Before we would put them by the side of the road, where the quality of the milk is affected by the heat of the sun, or it can be knocked over by animals or people and our efforts are wasted and money is lost,” said Emali Radiniyacata, a
founding member of the NWDG. Group member, Vasitia Buloulala is a recipient of the collective farm work that the women do. Her husband is housebound due to illness and she runs their farm.

“With the group’s assistance, we cleared a lot of land that we can now use for pasture. I am now able to care for our 17 milking cows, earn money and take care of my family’s needs,” said Vasitia.

The Fund also provided financial literacy and governance training for the group. “With these training opportunities, we are able to identify how to run our group, monitor our funds, do banking, and manage our petty cash,” said Susan Pocock, who is the Group President.

The Group has used the concept of collective work known as solesolevaki (solesolevaki in the itaukei culture means collective work) to start their initiative, merged with financial literacy and organisation governance skills to further their business interests.

“As women leaders we feel more confident to lead other women and also speak out, we are doing work that men do running dairy farms. There are few women who are in the dairy industry throughout Fiji and we are happy that the Fiji Women’s Fund has come to help our group,” said Susan.

Mindful of how a women led dairy group can be perceived in a traditional rural setting such as Naitasiri, Susan acknowledged that initially, there were some issues, “When we first started the community were very objective, they didn’t like it because we were women. But when the Fund project came and the community saw that we did the work, they’ve since come in to support.”

Seeing their wives, sisters and mothers actively involved has changed mind-sets of men. “Before when we started, I couldn’t see any men even in the household when we go do the work. Now I can see that they are coming in. So it has given them more open ideas and has opened the doors for us women in a traditional society,” said Susan.

“We thank the Fund for the support, for the training, for giving us the opportunity to be empowered and strengthening women to take up decision-making in the group to be good leaders.”