Verghese Kurien, the father of White revolution, on whose birthday we celebrate the National Milk day on 26th November, would have been very pleased today. From a chronic milk deficit country in 1950-51, with a production of 19 million tonnes per year (MMT), the production has increased to 176 MMT in 2017, and per capita availability of milk has reached 375 grams per day. In fact, with Indian milk production growing at a CAGR of 6.3% in 2017-18 and likely to continue to grow rapidly in future also, growth in milk production has outstripped population growth.A few months ago, newspapers in India were filled with reports and articles about surplus production of milk and farmers in certain States not getting the prices for their produce, which was abated only after the Government allowed 20% export subsidy on Skimmed Milk Powder (SMP) as well as additional support by affected States like Gujarat and Maharashtra to cooperatives and private producers. The situation has abated significantly with the stocks of SMP coming down from a high of 230,000 MT to about 150,000 MT. However, with another surplus season starting and the world milk market witnessing consistent over production by major producing countries like USA and EU, the time has come to have a re-look at the whole policy for dairy sector and to device steps so that the interests of the Indian farmers and consumers are protected.

The immediate challenge need of the hour is demand management. From the beginning of the White Revolution, the policy has been more oriented towards giving a fillip to milk production. A sustained price signal to the farmers in a non regulated market, coupled with protection from international competition, has resulted in milk production @ 6.3% CAGR out-pacing population growth @ 2.2%. Although, the average per capita milk consumption in the country at 375 grams is more than the world’s average of 313 grams, it is much below the OECD levels.

Even within the country consumption is not homogeneous and the poor have lower availability of milk and milk products as compared to the middle class and the rich. Obviously the first strategy should be supplementing the nutritional levels of the poor who constitute one-third of the population through providing supplementary nutrition through government schemes like Mid-Day Meal or Anganwadi Centers. Luckily most State Governments have adopted milk or milk products in Anganwadi and Mid-Day Meals schemes, although the frequency is still 2 to 3 days a week. Challenges include maintenance of cold chain and quality levels by distributors and availability of tastier and more likable products like flavoured milk.

Strengthening of milk marketing in tier-II and  tier-III cities is still weak and right now larger cooperatives and private players mainly cover the metros and State capitals with some tier-II cities. The situation is much more dire in the northern and eastern parts of the country where the cooperation movement in milk production has not taken off. A constructive push for strengthening of cooperative structure in deficient areas like these would not only increase the reach of the organized sector in the country but also increase the demand.

The challenge of increasing productivity of Indian breed of bovines rapidly still remains a major bottleneck. The average productivity of Indian cattle per year is 1,719 kg year while in Denmark its 9,386, USA 10,360, and Israel above 13,000 kg. Major milk producers like USA and the European Union are experiencing a boom in productivity through use of genomic breeding interventions. Rearing large number of animals, creates high pressure on our resources and environment also.

In White Revolution, the focus was on introduction of exotic cattle breeds like HF and jersey and producing their crossbred. Development of recognized Indian breeds was largely neglected till the introduction of Rashtriya Gokul Mission (RGM) with focus on development and conservation of Indian breeds like Gir, Sahiwal and Red Sindhi.

The first challenge in raising productivity for doubling farmers income is to increase the Artificial Insemination (AI) coverage from a very low level of 30% to 75% within 5 years, in 60% non-descript cattle. In the current year, Government of India introduced its first comprehensive programme on AI covering 116 aspirational districts covering their villages through semen of high yielding indigenous breeds (HYIB). This will give a boost to productivity of the non-descript and indigenous cows and more than double their milk production in the next 2-3 years. In fact, reaching the level of 3,000 litres yield for all indigenous breeds is a low hanging fruit and can be achieved if we are able to continue AI for 7-8 years in all the districts of the country and it will at least triple the milk production in the country.

National Dairy Plan, a world bank assisted programme, has been a major initiative for genetic improvement through progeny selection and progeny testing and has boosted the availability of HYIB cows like Gir, Sahiwal, Tharparkar, Kankrej and buffaloes like Murrah and Jaffarabadi. Progeny testing programmes of Gir are like to give results in further span of 3-5 years. In order to rapidly make available HYIB bulls there is a plan to start 50 ETT and IVF labs out of which 19 are scheduled to be completed next year. Frontiers of technology like development of genomic chip are also being explored through institutions like NDDB and National Bovine Genomic Centre.

Another challenge is of providing processing infrastructure and infrastructure for meeting the demand of value added milk products like cheese and yogurt. In the developed markets, value added products constitute 50-60% of the sales while liquid milk sale is generally between 25-33% unlike India where liquid milk sales constitute about 75% of the sales. New government schemes like Dairy Infrastructure Development Fund (DIDF) with a corpus of Rs. 10,881 crores have tried to fill the gap partially but there is still a long way to go. Thankfully the private sector has expanded fast into value added products because of their higher profit margins and their sales are growing at a much faster rate than liquid milk.

The final frontier of course is the quality of milk. The 12 digit UID along with the heath card for bovine animals would go a long way to ensure their traceability and heath concerns. The FMD control programme has already been extended to the whole country and continuous biannual vaccination is likely to get results by 2025. Lastly, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has come up with food safety specifications for milk. Although its recent comprehensive survey shows a significant reduction in adulteration of milk and puts non safe adulteration at 9.9%, its time to step up the enforcement of FSSAI Act by the enforcing agencies like States to achieve safe milk and our milk export dreams.