A global giant in production, yet a dwarf in productivity; this is what aptly defines Indian dairy. At a milk production of 188 million metric tonnes (mmt) during 2019, we are the world leader by several miles. The second placed United States of America recorded only half of this quantity at 98.72 million metric tonnes during this period.
There is a dramatic reverse when we measure our relative positions on the parameter of productivity. We achieve a mere 1805 kilogram milk per milch animal per year to the USA’s 10,457 kilogram/cattle/year. Israel records an impressive output of 13,200 kilogram/cattle/year. In fact, we are much below the global average too which stands at 2430.2 kilogram per milch animal per year.
The problem, or should we say challenge of Indian Dairy can be summed up under one over arching issue: Productivity; all else would be its various sub-sets. Poor or sub-optimal productivity yields poor returns to the livestock farmer besides being a huge opportunity lost. As John Adams famously said, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise”. Let us look at how the basket of challenges could become a bouquet of opportunities.
Breed and its genetic potential are key determinants of a dairy animal’s productivity. Focused and targeted breed improvement programmes offer a huge opportunity to generate higher output within the same or even lower input. This would be particularly rewarding in the case of our native sturdy breeds such as Gir, Sahiwal etc. Up till now, breed improvement schemes have centred around the artificial insemination (AI) activity based on selection of animals on the basis of rudimentary parameters. A scientific breeding programme could make use of a range of genomic selection tools available, thus ensuring a healthy genetic stock. It is also an encouragement for our R&D institutions, including the veterinary universities to develop gene selection methodologies and tools for our desi breeds.
Nutrition is a vital means to good health, and a healthy being is certainly more productive. Therefore, next opportunity would be feed which eats up the highest portion of input cost of a dairy animal. Since it is the most critical input any cost cutting here severely impacts the value of output. We are short both on availability and quality. Assuming a conservative requirement of 0.5 kg compound feed per litre milk production, the demand for cattle itself would be 67 mmt. However, only 11% of this requirement is being met today. The entire field is open to develop high quality, low cost animal feed. An increased participation of private sector manufacturing industry would be a welcome step to fill this huge gap. Water is an integral part of nutrition but never talked about. This is quite surprising considering that it is the main constituent of milk comprising between 80 to 90%. Access to water in adequate quantity and of suitable quality is another important factor influencing milk production. Water requirement of livestock sector and dairying should be integrated into into the government water policies.
Another major opportunity exists in effective and efficient management of animal health; and this includes both preventive health and disease surveillance and control. Unfortunately, the former is not given its due importance. One Health concept explains that healthy animals means healthy humans. Poor health of the animal acts as a principal constraint to increasing productivity. Further, animal disease compromises the quality of product and reduces its value. Dairy animals are quite prone to foot and mouth disease (FMD) and brucellosis. The National Animal Disease Programme for control of FMD and brucellosis has opened a wide window of opportunity to eradicate these debilitating diseases. This would result in substantially enhanced productivity, reduced costs on disease control, access to global markets for our dairy products and realisation of greater monetary value by the livestock farmer. A pointer to this is the fact that the share of developed countries in global exports of dairy products is 82%. They have eliminated FMD and have majorly invested in livestock health, hence dominate global trade. Protecting animals/livestock against diseases is also a key to fighting human hunger, malnutrition and poverty, as also reducing the risk of zoonotic diseases. A related issue is milk hygiene and time is opportune to make a gradual shift from hand milking to machine milking.
Considering that only about 25% milk is handled by the organised sector there is immense possibility for investing in the entire supply chain right from procurement to processing to distribution. Besides the dairy economy, it would spur the industry and business of refrigeration, dairy plants and machinery, transportation etc. A valuable offshoot of this could be industrial scale production of our traditional milk products which undoubtedly enjoy mass appeal. In a nutshell, advantage would be greater shelf life, better price realisation and value addition; a win-win for all, the primary producer, the processor and the consumer.
Buffalo, Camel, Goat, Sheep and Equine milk
Almost half of India’s milk comes from buffaloes; and this milk contains higher solids. Still, this low-maintenance and efficient feed converting animal gets relegated to the margins in discourses on our livestock and dairy policy. Italy has only four lakh buffaloes which it guards as a precious national treasure being the source of mozzarella cheese, the ubiquitous ingredient of pizza and pasta. We are home to above 56% of the world’s buffalo population, so all the more reason that we strongly hold on to this comparative advantage. Buffalo milk, being higher in fat content, is more versatile and hence suitable for a much larger number of products.
Camel, goat, sheep and equine milk are completely absent from any discussion on the opportunities in dairying. And it is here that an opportunity lies not only for securing additional sources of rural livelihoods, but also for innovative dairying. Milk from these animals could be part of a niche health and lifestyle market, besides being a source of unique milk products especially for high end consumer segment.
A recently emerged challenge to dairy is non-dairy alternatives or analogue products being publicised and marketed as milk. Codex Alimentarius, the international standards, guidelines and codes of practices relating to food safety and quality define milk as “the normal mammary secretion of milking animals.” What is sold in the name of milk from plant based or other alternatives is NOT milk. Dairy industry and all its stakeholders need to put an end to the misgivings on this score. Let it be an opportunity to also emphatically state the virtues of milk as a “complete food” comprising all essential nutrients, high quality proteins and fats; and a rich source of dietary energy.
Were these opportunities to be capitalised upon, would emerge the biggest of all challenges—managing the surplus production. And this would then present the biggest of all opportunities: a massive expansion of milk procurement and processing infrastructure to bring the entire marketable quantities within the organised framework, preferably the cooperative structure; increased conversion of liquid milk to value added and high value products, including products for the export markets.
Possibilities in dairy sector are endless. After all dairy in India, through its network of nearly 1,91,000 primary milk cooperatives of 17 million livestock farmers handling about 508 lakh kilogram milk daily has emerged as a sustainable, equitable and robust vehicle of economic growth and rural prosperity. It is a regular source of food and cash for the farmers and pastoralists; and milk one of the most widely produced and most valuable agricultural commodities. No doubt the challenges are many, but let them not overwhelm us for there are opportunities galore. As the biggest producer of milk, as also butter and ghee, we already have a head start. A small shift in perspective, from quantity to quality and value would do wonders.
Source: Agriculture Today, February 2021 (unedited version).