Awards 1992 RTZ Award for Long-Term Commitment

RTZ Award for Long-Term Commitment

Hindustan Lever Ltd and Lipton India Ltd

Hindustan Lever built a dairy products factory in 1963 at Etah, north-east of Agra in the fertile, alluvial Ganges plain. But, although Etah district had 700,000 cattle, they were mainly low-yielding buffaloes and farmers did not offer enough milk to make the dairy viable.

The company tried offering interest-free loans to buy better buffaloes. It gave out milk cans and bicycles. It offered to refinance loans from milk and ghee (clarified butter) traders to whom farmers were bonded to supply milk.

None of this worked. In 1974 it decided to sell the dairy. However, the Uttar Pradesh government and the dairy employees persuaded it not to do so. Hindustan Lever slimmed the dairy staff, disbanded its fleet of tanker lorries and closed inefficient milk collection centres. But it still needed more milk to make its skimmed milk powder, dairy whitener and ghee. It sent five agriculture graduates from the Etah area to live in selected villages and find out about life there.

They found that, in a district with over 1,000 mainly illiterate people to the square mile, most farmers had less than a hectare of land. They had no part in the green revolution. Though over half the land was irrigated, they planted only one crop a year and yields were low. They lacked access to credit and markets.

They were not very interested in selling milk. Even good-quality cattle did badly on crop residues and other scraps. Half the villages were well away from a proper road and apt to be cut off in the monsoon.

The survey resulted in 1976 in the launch of an integrated rural development programme (IRD) to improve farm incomes and village health care. The health scheme includes vaccination, family planning and repairs to protect wells from contamination.

Lipton India, another Unilever subsidiary, has run the IRD programme and the dairy since 1984.

At first the farmers were sceptical about the programme. Hindustan Lever broke the ice by sending its management trainees into the villages for two months each. With the villagers they plan roadbuilding, power supplies, installing smokeless cookers, disinfecting wells, and help farmers obtain government aid.

One trainee set up a sewing co-operative with girls who had been disheartened because the clothes they made were being rejected. Over the years, hundreds of trainees have lived in the villages, gaining experience as well as bringing villagers together.

IRD programme staff's enthusiasm won farmer's confidence. They advised them on ways to increase the yield and range of crops, including those useful as both fodder and food. They introduced castor - more valuable than rice - which can be sown as a mixed crop with maize. Farmers earn money, too, from seed multiplication and from lemon grass from which citronella oil is distilled in the villages.

Some biogas plants were installed, saving families from the drudgery of collecting fuel.

Hindustan Lever set up a research and development centre to solve local problems and test new ideas, including the successful growing of Basmata rice on reclaimed alkaline land. It offered a better price for milk and organised village development committees and centres which enabled farmers, though they might have only one or two animals, to sell milk direct rather than through middlemen. One village farmer takes on the job of collecting milk from others. The number of villages providing milk has risen from an initial six to 250.

Farmers are slowly switching to higher-yielding crossbred cattle despite the extra care needed. Milk collection for the diary has risen to 36,000 tonnes in 1989 and 47,000 this year. Collection records are computerised.

This year, Lipton India is investing 3 million rupees (70,000) from the dairy in the lRD programme. This is largely run by the village development committees. It also offers opportunities for enterprise to individuals. A Punjabi farmer, with IRD help, learned how to grow crops on 100 acres of alkaline land, a major problem in parts of the area. An IRD worker cut the cost of citronella oil production by suggesting fuelling the stills with used grass. A teacher got a village road built, despite a campaign against him and the late arrival of government wheat, part of the payment for the labourers.

The programme has also encouraged tree-planting. It has sought to reach out to women despite caste and religious difficulties. Looking to the future, Lipton lndia expects the number of village development centres to pass 1,100,with an increase also in cattle treatment centres. A growing number of people will benefit from health care, adult education and extra-income schemes.

Lipton's edible fats business aims to encourage sunflower growing, using hybrid seed developed by Hindustan Lever. There are plans for villages to produce more citronella oil for use by Hindustan Lever. Another plan is to supply detergents for local sale, providing extra income for some villagers.

Staff involved in the IRD programme feel their efforts have helped build confidence and unleash - the energy of a long-ignored population.