You

The brave women of Vehari

You
By Raja Kamran
Tue, 05, 22

In small villages of Punjab like Vehari, women are being trained in livestock farming and dairy production in a bid to provide them financial independence and confidence. You takes a look…

The brave women of Vehari

From an early age, Ansa knew she had the potential to turn challenges into opportunities. Despite working long hours in the fields, her father was unable to provide properly for his wife and four children. So, she did what any other girl in her position would – she quit school and started working with her father on the farm.

Ansa worked hard and with consistency. However, despite working long hours, she was unable to manage her household expenses. Matters worsened when Ansa’s mother and brother passed away in a road accident. As life got tougher, Ansa realised that it was time to do something more. It was taking a while for Ansa to decide what was she going to do next. Until, one fateful day, a team from FrieslandCampina Engro Pakistan Limited (FCEPL) arrived in her village and approached the local prayer leader with an idea. Around prayer time, the imam made an announcement that FCEPL was going to train villagers about cattle, how to look after farm animals and monitor their health. When she heard the announcement, she just knew that she had to go for this training.

Ansa and Aqsa
Ansa and Aqsa

With the goal of creating sustainable livelihoods for women as well as inclusive communities in rural Pakistan, FCEPL initiated the Enhancing Women’s Income through Dairy Interventions (EWID) project in 2019. This was just the opportunity that she was looking for and jumped at the opportunity to learn about cattle. The team trained Ansa and other interested villagers for three months, following which they set up a camp in the village and asked farmers to bring their animals over for a check-up.

“The camp was an eye-opener for me,” shares Ansa. “I saw the team at work and observed what they did. I also managed to assist them in some cases. As a result of this exercise, the villagers and farmers started trusting me and my work. Now, they bring their animals to my place for consultations.”

This three-month course was a game-changer for Ansa and she was glad that she is able to give back to her community as well. “People in my village respect me so much. The experience has been excellent. Several farmers have benefitted from my preventive and nutrition services.”

Ansa also believes that the trust and appreciation that she receives from the villagers has encouraged her to do even more than this. “The response had been so positive and overwhelming that I have managed to set up my own extension services. The training has empowered me to aim for bigger and better things.”

Like a snowball effect, Ansa’s sister Aqsa followed in her older sibling’s footsteps. While she was still grieving her mother and brother, Aqsa realised that she had to share the financial burden with her sister as well. While Ansa was working outside the house, Aqsa decided to quit school and help out at home. Aqsa already knew about the training her sister had received but she wanted to do something different.

The team taught her all about procuring milk and this is how Aqsa became the first woman to be a ‘Milk Collection Agent’. Then, she shared all the information with others interested in becoming agents and soon, she started her own business.

Tehmina with her mother at her work space.
Tehmina with her mother at her work space.

To help Aqsa and women like her, the team also set up a milk chilling facility, which has helped increased income levels. Earlier, a large quantity of milk would go to waste because of unavailability of a cold storage facility which would impact the supply and demand chain.

However, it was difficult to get the business off the ground. She faced several problems. For example, it took time to get milk from one place to another and she had no way to do it. To get on top of the situation, Aqsa decided that she would learn how to ride a motorcycle. While this made her job easier, the villagers were not accepting to the idea. However, Aqsa was determined and she wanted to work. This was the only way she could do it, and so she went ahead with her mission to break this bias.

Eventually, the villagers got used to seeing her going around on her bike and appreciated the good job she was doing. “I was adamant to make this work and slowly the criticism stopped. Soon enough, I started noticing many other girls in the village riding on motorcycles. It made me happy to see the girls going to school, completing their education, and gaining good employment,” enthuses Aqsa.

In a small village like Vehari, these two sisters were not only able to defy rigid stereotypes that are deeply rooted in a patriarchal society, but they also paved way for other girls as well. With their hard work and availing the opportunities they found, Aqsa and Ansa became role models for their success, financial independence and confidence.

The brave women of Vehari

Tehmina Majid is one such young woman who was inspired by these two sisters. Six years ago, Tehmina’s life turned upside down when her father passed away. At the time, he was the breadwinner of the family. Unfortunately, a few months after her father’s untimely death, her mother had a heart attack and was severely ill afterwards. This meant that she could not work in the fields anymore but as the eldest sibling, Tehmina was now responsible to put food on the table. Things were getting worse. Tehmina had to drop out of eighth grade to find a full-time job to support her mother and seven siblings and manage the household as well. Looking for work, Tehmina landed a job at a vegetable farm for Rs 6,000, which was below minimum wage. The job was tough but she worked tirelessly from 6 a.m. till late in the evening every day. Seeing her work such long hours and struggling to manage her home, the head of the village discussed her situation with the FCEPL team and recommended that they meet her.

After their first meeting, the team offered Tehmina to train her in livestock extension services. For a month, Tehmina received gruelling training on preventive measures, first aid and nutrition of livestock. To encourage and motivate her to attend training, the company organised a pick and drop transport service for her. Every morning, she was picked up from her residence and dropped off at the training facility – a dairy farm on Khanewal Road. At the end of the day, she was dropped back home.

Aqsa, first Milk Collection Agent, on her way to work
Aqsa, first Milk Collection Agent, on her way to work

As a part of the learning process, Tehmina had started visiting nearby villages and farms and would talk to farmers about their cattle and illnesses. After completing the month-long training, Tehmina was given a veterinary tool kit and told that she could start work on disease prevention, deworming and nutrition of community animals. With her hard work and dedication, she quickly became popular. Her work encouraged people from different villages and surrounding areas to reach out to her for help. “This training gave me courage, confidence and financial independence. The dark days now look brighter. Had my father been alive, he would have been proud to see what I have become,” she enthuses.

According to the Labour Force Survey of 2017-18 conducted by Pakistan Bureau of Statistic, thirty-nine per cent of the country’s labour force is engaged in agriculture (30.2 per cent males and 67.2 per cent females). In total, the agriculture sector contributes 18.5 per cent to the country’s GDP. Out of the total area of 79.6 million hectares, 22.1 million hectares are cultivated; the rest of the territory is comprised of culturable waste, densely populated forests and rangelands. Cropped area constitutes 23.3 million hectares, while forests cover 4.6 million hectares of the total land. The country has the world’s largest contiguous irrigation system with almost 80 per cent of the cultivated area irrigated.
Pakistan is also amongst the world’s top ten producers of wheat, cotton, sugarcane, mango, dates and kinnow oranges, and is ranked 10th in rice production. Major crops (wheat, rice, cotton and sugar cane) contribute around 4.9 per cent, while minor crops contribute 2.1 per cent to the country’s total GDP. Livestock sector contributes 11 per cent to the country’s GDP (60.5 per cent in agriculture sector) and employs approximately 35 million people. Fisheries and forestry sectors each contribute an estimated 0.4 per cent to the GDP (2.1 per cent in agriculture sector).
To combat poverty and food insecurity, these capacity building programmes can play a major role to improve the living conditions in rural areas. Capacity-building is defined as the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organisations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world. Sustainable Development Goal 17: Revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, the United Nations is committed to transformation from within. An essential ingredient in capacity-building is transformation that is generated and sustained over time from within; transformation of this kind goes beyond performing tasks to changing mindsets and attitudes.
Source: FAO.org & UN.org

There are many rural communities in Pakistan that are struggling to make ends meet. And while it can be easier to send out donations and set up temporary help projects, these projects are much more detrimental to a community. To help a community grow, initiatives should ensure that these communities can survive on their own and have a sustainable livelihood. FCEPL’s initiative is all about providing long-term benefits in the form of higher yields, employment opportunities for women and a boost to rural economy. The company has trained 8,200+ female farmers, including 3,000+ female farmers and milk collection agents under the Enhancing Women’s Income through Dairy (EWID) initiative of the Dairy Development Programme (DDP). Trainings under DDP and EWID include best practices for dairy farming, animal health, milk hygiene and collection, quality testing, farm economics, and calf rearing, among other trainings for capacity-building and capability-building. These trainings have helped improve the quantity and quality of milk collected. The beneficiaries are equipped with veterinary toolkits to start their own shop, offering livestock extension services, and improving resilience of farmers to climatic and economic shocks.

Empowering female farmers and agripreneurs through dairy interventions and ensuring inclusive growth and profitability, are key pillars of the company’s sustainability strategy. “My financial independence and work gave me the opportunity to send my younger siblings to school. My younger brother is now employed, my mother is also doing much better now and things are looking up,” shares Tehmina. When asked about what she wants to do next, Tehmina did not hesitate to reply, “To learn more.”

The writer can be reached at

rajakamran5@gmail.com