Agriculture and allied activities, particularly dairy farming, hold strategic significance for the country’s rural growth. Over 70 million rural households in India, comprising small and marginal farmers as well as landless laborers, are connected, either directly or indirectly, with the dairy sector. Dairying has emerged as an important secondary source of income for millions of rural families and has been providing employment and income generating opportunities particularly to marginal farmers, especially the women. It is estimated by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) that by 2022, apart from fodder farming, feed production, dairy farming, the dairy processing industry alone shall employ more than two million people, of which around 80 per cent employment shall be generated in the non-organised sector. Dairy sector is very strong and prominent in India owing to following reasons:

  • India is the world’s largest milk producer as well as consumer, consuming almost 100 per cent of its domestic milk production.
  • Dairy provides a major source of secondary income to the farmers.
  • Milk and milk products supplement the protein diet of large vegetarian population of the country and hence enhance food and nutritional security.
  • The vast vegetarian population of India and cultural significance translates into demand for milk that remains largely inelastic, despite surge in milk prices.
  • The sector has been able to achieve the objective of social and inclusive growth.

However, numerous challenges that cause hindrance in achieving true potential of the industry cannot be undermined. Supply of skilled manpower and retention of the same remain one of the major challenges being faced by the sector. Dairy as a sector is far more demanding than agriculture in terms of skills and interventions towards skill development can enhance family income and provide a sustainable source of livelihood to millions of rural households.

An NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) survey revealed that only 5.1 per cent of the farmer households in India were able to access any information on animal husbandry as against 40.4 per cent on crop farming. Skill development interventions in the sector are relevant with respect to skills required for equipment operations, integrated nutrient management, breeding techniques, animal health care, record keeping and many more. Some specific interventions that are required for sustainable growth and skill development in the sector are:

Animal Breeding: Today a major challenge before large dairy farms is availability of high yielding cattle as breeding farms in India are rare. Thus, major cattle procurement takes place from farmers who resort to conventional breeding methods and are unaware of the latest ones. Artifi cial insemination is a powerful tool for livestock improvement; however farmers have not been able to bank upon this technology for yield gains due to lack of required technical skills. They indulge in indiscriminate breeding without the knowledge of genetic potential of the animals. There is an urgent need to build the skill sets required for developing high yielding milch animals with focus on technical aspects, record keeping and progeny testing which will enable the farmers to take informed decisions for upgrading their existing herd. Farmers can also materialize animal breeding expertise as secondary source of earning.

Feed Management: Feed is one of the critical determinants in ensuring good milk yield and also constitutes approximately 60 to 70 per cent of the operating expenses. Imbalanced nutrition, due to lack of farmers’ knowledge about appropriate use of feed resources depending on animal health and growth stage requirements, results in low productivity as well as profits. With rapidly shrinking land and natural resources, availability and quality of feed and fodder is increasingly becoming a challenge. Hence, along with ensuring better feed availability, it is critical to develop farmer’s expertise in using the locally available feed resources effectively. To overcome the challenge of year round availability of green fodder, farmers need to be trained in silage preparation.

Veterinary Services: Animal health care is a major challenge for the dairy industry in India due to unavailability of trained manpower and lack of mobility (veterinary service requirements are normally on short notice and require attendance in a limited time window at farm doorstep). It has been estimated that with about 40 veterinary colleges and 10 veterinary universities, India produces only about 2,000 veterinary graduates annually compared to a requirement of 7,000. Training farmers to become village-based livestock service providers, who are able to provide basic veterinary services and preventive healthcare to the livestock in the village itself, can prove to be a boon for the sector. Timely identification of diseases, knowledge about preventive measures and providing first aid would help in improving the livestock health resulting in better productivity as well as quality of milk and, as a result, improve earnings.

Good Dairy Farm Management Practices: Good farm management practices like regular cleaning of cow shed, providing balanced nutrition, procedures for detecting and handling of sick animals and maintaining congenial environment for the cattle are prerequisites to higher and hygienic milk production. Some of these may not require very specific skills, but others like detection of diseases, nutrition management, effluent/dung management and measures for animal comfort are areas where specific skill sets and knowledge needs to be developed.

Processing and Allied Skills: Technical skills are required at each level of dairy supply chain right from the operational to the management level. These skill sets include handling of quality testing and adulteration testing kits, operation and maintenance of farm machinery like milking machine and bulk coolers. Technically skilled manpower is also required for dairy plants to operate processing and packaging machinery, chemical and microbiological testing of milk products, maintenance of machinery and effluent treatment. With rising consumer awareness, health consciousness and stringent quality standards under FSSAI, there is an increased focus on milk quality during production as well as processing, thus increasing the demand of skilled manpower in this area.

Way Forward

With paradigm shift of dairying from being a subsidiary occupation to mainstream activity, availability of skilled manpower has become of utmost importance. Augmenting knowledge and skill levels of the workforce is essential to enhance resource productivity, boost innovation, manage finance, mitigate risks and improve decision making ability which will enable sustainable dairy farming. This demands a renewed focus on skill development and change in the operational strategies of training institutions.

Skill programs should be context and objective driven with an implication on farm revenues and market efficiencies. Targeted programs in vernacular languages and designed for managing different farm sizes ranging from few cattle to large scale dairy farms with use of locally available resource of feed, fodder and infrastructure would galvanize and facilitate efforts towards enhanced training outcomes. Focus should be given to imparting animal breeding skills for genetic upgradation of available livestock along with database development at farm level.

Collaborative institutional models are needed to encourage private sector participation in providing need based training to farmers at their door step in areas such as AI services, good dairy farm management practices and silage preparation. Progressive farmers also need to be trained to act as extension agents for disseminating technical knowledge for better reach and adoption of new technologies.

While the country is bracing itself for the Herculean task of building the skills of millions, it is time for making innovative and holistic efforts towards focusing on the targeted livelihood enhancement and market efficiency with the objective of attaining high milk yields, better quality milk and sustainable profits for the farmers.