Milk is the most sought after commodity by a large number of people right from early morning even in the urban milieu. Yet, few are aware of the hardships behind the production and marketing of the nutrient drink. Of late, the production has gone up in the central Kerala region, but will the trend continue? It requires a key analysis of the ground realities for an answer.
Kerala, considered a consumerist State, has a long way to go to achieve self-sufficiency in milk production. The demand is met by supplies from neighbouring States. Successive governments in Kerala have announced various schemes to improve milk production, but the goal is not within immediate reach.
In most parts of urban and semi-urban Kerala, the search for milk begins and ends at the supermarket. The first name that strikes the majority of Keralites is Milma, the cooperative entity which procures and markets milk.
Ernakulam region of Milma, the Ernakulam Regional Cooperative Milk Producers' Union Limited, covers the revenue districts of Kottayam, Idukki, Ernakulam and Thrissur.
The Ernakulam region is selling about 3.5 lakh litres of milk daily out of which the procurement within the region is roughly 2 lakh litres. The position had improved since last year when the production was only 1.5 lakh litres.
M. T. Jayan, the chairman of the Ernakulam region of Milma, attributes the rise to the higher procurement price apart from incentives being provided to the farmer. The milk price was revised in September last year. Milma had sought a hike in the price in order to pay more to the farmer.
A case came up against the move in the court, but the latter allowed Milma to decide on the price. “It was a historic decision. If only the farmer (in this case, the farmers' cooperative) has the right to decide on the price of the commodity, he will stick to the farming activity”, Mr. Jayan observes.
The farmer is getting about Rs.23 per litre now, which is still below a level which could provide comfortable profit margins to the farmer. The situation is the net result of the overall cost escalation which has thrown many farmers out of the occupation at a time when suicide among farming community in general remains a stark reality.
The Ernakulam region had introduced a variety of welfare measures for the farmer. It facilitates bank loans and subsidy for buying up to 4 milch animals. Special schemes for calf rearing and subsidy for purchase of milking machine are also in place. The increase in milk procurement this year is a reflection of the ground realities, according to Mr.Jayan. If there is a supportive mechanism, the sector will go beyond survival and make a mark in the years ahead.
The region had incurred huge losses a few years ago, but now things are looking much better, he says. The region is planning to expand its diary processing plant at Tripunithura with a Rs.3 crore grant from the Union government.
Once established, it would become the largest dairy plant in Kerala, according to him.
One of the foremost demands of the dairy sector is to include it in the employment guarantee scheme.
If the Union government can implement such a decision, it would be of immense help to the farmers.
Free power to the cattle sheds and schemes to provide fodder at affordable rates are among other demands.
Mr. Jayan has a success mantra as well: Identify the farmers who have a great regard for heritage and a passion for dairying; provide the best facilities to them.
Then, the present scene will change drastically.
“Even youngsters are ready to enter the field if such a pro-active phase begins despite the fact that the sector is plagued by labour shortage, low margins of profit and difficult work conditions,” he avers.
The hopes, aspirations and despair of a dairy farmer were reflected in the voice of V. M. George, a farmer hailing from Kolencherry, who spoke to The Hindu. “The dairy farmer has no time to spare even if there is a death in the family. He is constantly tied up to the cattle,” he bemoans.
If there are one lakh farmers, 10 lakh people get the benefit from the produce, he points out. The farmer has no time to agitate over his demands; the government would do well if the dairy farmer is included in the employment guarantee scheme. Pointing out that a 50 kg bag of cattle feed costs around Rs.700, he demands subsidy for it.
Mr. George is unhappy with the productivity of cattle provided to the farmers in Kerala. He wants the Kerala Livestock Development Board to make concerted efforts to secure cattle with higher productivity, available in Karnataka and other places.
“The incentives being offered by KLDB do not reach the farmer. Insurance scheme for cattle is ineffective and the plea for a welfare board for dairy farmers has reached nowhere. Everyone can't afford milking machines, costing from Rs. 3,000 to Rs.30,000.”
The list of woes is quite long, with no organised forum to take up the demands. Meanwhile, many a farmer is carrying on with his occupation till such time when it becomes unsustainable and death stares at him.
Keywords: milk production