Challenging social norms as a dairy farmer: Anusha tells her story

“If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family,” were the wise words of Ghanaian scholar and educator Dr James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey.

In South Asian societies, women have traditionally been seen as the organiser and care giver of a household. However, this trend is shifting with a greater proportion of women taking on the role as head of the household.

Many women now play a primary role in contributing to the family income either in partnership with their husbands, or as the primary provider – often breaking the glass ceiling across traditionally male-dominated industries.

This revolution is not limited to women in cities or urban neighbourhoods. Women in villages and rural areas are also achieving success as entrepreneurs and contributing to their family and the development of their communities.

However, their aspirations cannot be made a reality with hard work and perseverance alone. It is the responsibility of both the government and private organisations to provide necessary encouragement, opportunities and guidance for them to excel.

Fonterra Brands Sri Lanka, the company behind “Anchor”, has been working closely with a network of Sri Lankan dairy farmers for the past 20 years, supporting and empowering their entrepreneurial spirit.

One such dairy farmer who has championed her own potential over the years as a successful entrepreneur is Ms Anusha Rathnayake from Doluwa, wife to an army soldier and mother of two boys aged nine and two.

“After I got married it was important to find a job to help cover daily expenses because my husband was working in Colombo. I decided to start a small-scale dairy farm which was successful and have since been able to expand my business and earning by selling milk,” said a proud Anusha.

The first farm went through a temporary hiatus after the birth of Anusha’s second son as she was unable to manage all duties. She restarted work on the farm a few years later when caring for him became less intensive, but the second time around she wanted to do things differently.

“Before resuming the farm I met and received advice from a Fonterra Brands Sri Lanka Supplier Relationship Officer at the company’s local Milk Collection Centre.” Anusha was taught the proper daily concentrate of nutrition for the cows and the benefits of letting the animals graze in the open field instead of being tied up. She was also introduced to the correct milking process to help her increase the quality, value and shelf life of the milk she produces.

 “It was then that I was made aware of how Fonterra sources milk from local smallholder dairy farmers for their Anchor Newdale yoghurt and liquid milk production. This is an immense benefit for us local dairy farmers because with Fonterra, we are able to sell our milk consistently at a fair and profitable price. With this kind of support, I’m proud to say I was able to become the most successful dairy farmer in my area,” beams a pleased Anusha.

With an early start at 6 am each morning when milking begins, Anusha’s two milking cows produce on average 15-20 litres of milk per day. By 7 am, she then proceeds to other dairy farms in the area for her milk collection duties. Having started out by collecting 40 litres a day, Anusha has now increased her daily collection to 90 litres per day thanks to the efforts made in increasing the productivity of her own farm as well as expanding her milk collection network.

Today whilst being a successful smallholder dairy farmer, she has big goals in aspiring to upgrade to being a large-scale dairy entrepreneur by improving her collection network to achieve 300 litres of liquid milk a day.

It is not just about her farm work that has helped Anusha get to where she is today; she is also very focused on the business side of things. One of the most important aspects is making sure she manages her income efficiently, dividing her earnings between her children’s education and the daily expenses; reinvesting the remaining income in her farm to develop it even further.

“Gender is not a barrier to becoming an entrepreneur. It is dedication and good habits that will bring you success wherever you choose to go,” she says.

At 30 years old, Anusha is one of the most successful and inspiring dairy entrepreneurs in Doluwa. She is held in high regard among her fellow dairy farmers and is a true legend of the soil in her own right.    

Anusha milking one of her cows early in the morning

Anusha taking her cows to feed after milking.

- Anusha collecting milk from her collection network

Anusha collecting milk from her collection network

Anusha lodging her collection of milk for the day

Anusha delivering the milk to the Fonterra Milk Collection Centre with the support of the Supplier Relationship Officer

Anusha in the process of conducting the regular milk quality check

Anusha with her two sons at their home

Anusha with her mother and son at their home