In Maharashtra, India, farmers with small operations are experiencing a revolution. With the aid of a free program, what were once thousands of small, family farms operating on the experience of generations of colloquial family knowledge, are now transforming into thriving family businesses — some even tripling in size.
This kind of transformation was nearly impossible just a generation ago, and owes itself to a creative and innovative use of technology by a local dairy farm which believes that creating opportunity for the farmers around them will strengthen the fabric of their company, and India at large.
In Palus, a small town in the heart of Maharashtra, Vishwas Chitale, CEO/CTO of Chitale Dairy presides over the biggest dairy in India.
This is his family’s business: a sprawling 1000-cow dairy generating thousands of liters of milk a day, which are packaged and reformulated into products for local groceries that feed tens of thousands of Maharashtra’s citizens. Chitale’s family is the bedrock of the dairy market here, and the company has grown from humble beginnings to the largest dairy in India, within just two generations.
“We thought... if we're using technology to improve our animals, can we share that with our farmers?”
— Vishwas Chitale, CEO/CTO Chitale Dairy
The family founded the company on the unofficial motto, “Give back to the community what you gain,” and Vishwas has manifested that motto at every level of the company.1 While the state of Maharashtra is one of the top-performing in India, the disparity in income between urban and rural communities tells a different story. Outside of the urban centers, Maharashtra is a rural, agrarian society. Chitale is helping to close that gap, one family, one child at a time.
The business, like many others, contributes financially to the wellbeing of the community by supporting local schools and infrastructure. But the real transformation in economic opportunity for the local people comes from a more unlikely direction—improving the health and productivity of cows.
Vishwas explains the connection. Traditionally, dairy farmers run small herds on their land and have little access to veterinary care. The result is low milk yields, lower quality milk, poor breeding and poor animal health management. When farmers are able to boost the health of their animals, they can produce more, higher-quality milk on less land, and optimize for the best-producing cows. Less grazing land requirements creates an opportunity to use remaining land to grow cash crops, which further boosts family incomes. In many instances, freeing up money so a family can pay for a child’s education opening up a world of possibilities for a new generation.
Palus, MaharashtraPopulation: 26,151
Villages: 35 total
Climate: Dry and Arid
Located in Sangli District
For Chitale, helping farmers to increase the number of cows and improve the quality of the milk is also good business. The 1,000 cows that are kept at the company’s facility are but a fraction of the almost 200,000 cows they remotely manage around the state, each owned and cared for by small, family farmers.
The success of their company results from this combination of philanthropy, giving away free tools and education, but creating productive producers, each with their own portion of the business and self interest at stake. They were able to create this success by thinking of technology in a different way than industry peers.
1 India’s latest Socioeconomic and Caste Census (SECC) – 2011 – released in 2015
The tip of that spear is a humble, yet powerful SMS message, backed by their “Cows to Cloud” program—where Chitale uses cloud computing to notify each of their 10,000-farmer network on the health and breeding status of their cows over SMS messaging service, utilizing the country’s robust cellular network. Whether a farmer owns five cows or 100 cows, health data can be accessed through the web or mobile, SMS or phone call to Chitale’s phone center.
It all starts with an RFID tag attached to each of more than 50,000 cloud-connected animals spread across Chitale’s “satellite farms.” The tags allow the dairy to identify cows in a number of ways (RFID, QR, and serial numbers) to easily monitor for health, milk production, nutritional needs, calving cycles and so on. Using a centralized server and VMware technology for virtualization, Chitale’s team of veterinarians can interpret the data and seamlessly communicate health, breeding and feeding information daily to farmers across their network, via SMS messaging.
“It’s very cost effective and easy,” says Vishwas. “Every farmer has a mobile phone to receive the SMS messages, and they can also reach out by phone or text to our call center if they have any questions.”
Chitale also provides free veterinary care, access to high-quality breeding services that improve the livestock and access to expertise—all of which is part of their goal to support the farmer at every turn.
With less land needed for grazing, farmers can take advantage of another Chitale initiative: The Fields to Farms program, which helps farmers learn how to grow cash crops to sell into a cooperative distribution system, further increasing the family income.
The educational component is vital and the dairy offers a free and extensive program of classes to all of its farmers and employees, whom Vishwas calls “the extended Chitale farmer family.” The program covers everything from animal husbandry to how to best take advantage of the sophisticated technology used to keep track of cow health, and efficiently manage a modern business. Far from keeping the benefits of new technology for his business alone, Vishwas aims to inspire entrepreneurs and to equip them with the skills they need to build more prosperity for their families and communities.
Small-scale dairy farmers are seizing these opportunities created by Chitale and the technology it leverages to completely rethink longstanding subsistence businesses and generate sustainable income for the first time.
Vishwas is proud of the impact of his family business and the change it will continue to bring for thousands of people. Focusing on animal health and productivity is not only good business; the technology is empowering people and communities and changing the future of India’s rural communities. “If we are able to cut down 10 times the population of animals, dependency on the land will be greatly reduced. The whole community does well and becomes a stronger community. And it will help us to produce a greener India.”