As global temperatures climb, a lack of refrigeration makes a big impact on people trying to make a living from farming. Especially dairy farms.

There are more than 75 million smallholder dairy farmers in India. Most are in off-grid areas without refrigeration, or reliant on expensive and polluting diesel generators. This locks people out of national supply chains, and farmers have to spend hours transporting milk to markets, or sell at a lower price to middlemen. In Maharashtra, western India, a network of community dairies has been set up, using sustainable refrigeration technology, where people can bring their milk to be tested, chilled, and sold on.

Lakshman Srirang Jadhav, 65, has two cows and one buffalo, Latur district, Maharashtra
Smallholder dairy farmers milk their cow before depositing the milk at the Lakshmi Dairy at Karajgaon, in Latur District, Maharshtra
Milking cows in Latur District
Dairy farmers prepare milk to deposit at Lakshmi Dairy in Karajgaon, Latur District, October 2020
A women’s group member, Mahadevi Chand Jadhav, checks milk for quality and fat content at Lakshmi Dairy in Karajgaon

Photographer Prashanth Vishwanathan visited Latur district to see the impact of the centres. “There are huge numbers of farmer suicides in Maharashtra at the moment, because crops are difficult. People are in debt, there is a lot of money to repay. These are marginal farmers. This business opportunity is a lifeline for these communities,” he says.

Smallholding dairy farmers milk their cow prior to depositing the milk to Lakshmi Dairy at Karajgaon

The chilling service in Latur is organised by social enterprise Promethean Power Systems, in partnership with local NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP). Promethean’s chillers use batteries incorporating sustainable thermal energy storage technology, making diesel generators redundant.

A reefer van leaves to pick up milk from Lakshmi Dairy centres in Karajgaon

Around the world, low-income communities are most at risk from the climate crisis: higher temperatures threaten their crops and produce, as well as their health. Conventional cooling and chilling is unaffordable for many, and, ironically, the emissions it creates further worsen the crisis. Sustainable cooling for all is fundamental to climate justice.

Dairy farmers arrive to deposit milk at Lakshmi Dairy in Karajgaon, in Latur District, Maharshtra, October 2020

The scale of food wastage in low-income countries is high – 40% of what is produced – with lack of cold chain storage a huge factor. It’s estimated that a billion people do not have access to any type of cooling. For rural farmers that is a big obstacle to selling food in soaring temperatures.

Milk from various collection centres in processed at night, at the 5,000-litre Creamline Dairy in Killari Gaon village in Latur.
Collection at the Killari Gaon Creamline Dairy
Testing the quality of the milk at Lakshmi Dairy in Karajgaon
Kishore Chemte, 25, installs a Promethean Power Systems 1,000-litre milk collection unit in Tungi, Latur District, Maharashtra
Nitin Bedjawalge, 25, with his wife Susma, 21, and his mother Kusum, 55, fill and seal 250 packets of milk at a Lakshmi Dairy, from 3.30am, to be delivered in the nearest town of Latur by 6am, Davatpur, Latur District, Maharashtra

Vishwanathan has worked in Latur before, witnessing the environmental threats faced by these communities – threats which will be made worse by the climate crisis.

He says: “I photographed drought in the area 10 years ago. People are more educated now, with more access to information. But an economic gap remains.”

Chilled packets of milk from a Lakshmi Dairy are delivered door to door in Latur, Latur District, Maharashtra, October 2020

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