Dairy dreams: A not-so-white vision

The government’s projections of milk production almost doubling and incomes of farmers more than trebling by 2023-24 seem rather rosy.

Written by Harish Damodaran | New Delhi | Updated: March 15, 2018 7:45 am
Dairy development: How realistic are these forecasts/targets Achieving 300 million tonnes milk production in 2023-24, from the current 163.7 million tonnes, would call for a compounded annual growth rate of 9.04 per cent. (Photo: Bhupendra Rana)

It took over one-and-a-half decades for India’s milk production to roughly double from 80.6 million tonnes (mt) in 2000-01 to 163.7 mt in 2016-17. But if the Narendra Modi government’s National Action Plan for Dairy Development: Vision-2022 is to be believed, it’s possible not only to achieve the next near-doubling to 300 mt by 2023-24, but also more than treble the average net income of milk producers from Rs 516 to Rs 1,697 per month.

How is this going to be done, given that achieving 300-mt output in 2023-24 would require an annual growth of 9.04 per cent, or twice the 4.53 per cent average rate recorded between 2000-01 and 2016-17? Well, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, which has prepared the Action Plan, projects an increase in the country’s in-milk cattle and buffalo population from 88.35 million in 2015-16 to 108.31 million in 2021-22 and 116.38 million in 2023-24. That, along with average daily milk yield per animal rising from 4.65 kg to 6.44 kg and 7.06 kg, would result in output climbing from 155.5 mt in 2015-16 (it presumably also includes production from goats) to 254.5 mt in 2021-22 and 300 mt in 2023-24.

As for incomes, the assumption is that the average monthly milk sale by farmers will go up from the existing 80.1 litres (@2.67 litres per day) to 151.37 litres (5.05/day) in 2021-22 and 178.40 litres (5.95/day) in 2023-24. Also, it is expected that the average procurement price per litre paid by dairies for buffalo and cow milk would increase from the current Rs 32.19 to Rs 43.14 in 2021-22 and Rs 47.56 in 2023-24, with corresponding retail prices of Rs 46, Rs 61.64 and Rs 67.96 per litre, respectively.

Taking the farmer’s margin at 20 per cent of the procurement price, the average milk producer’s net monthly income would grow from Rs 516 now to Rs 1,306 in 2021-22 and Rs 1,697 by 2023-24. In other words, not a mere doubling but a more-than-trebling of incomes over seven years!

But how realistic are these forecasts/targets?

To start with, consider the projected one-third expansion in the country’s in-milk bovine population between 2015-16 and 2023-24. It is obvious that this cannot happen through an increase in the overall cattle and buffalo numbers; these have grown by just 3.74 per cent — from 288.79 million to 299.6 million — between 1992 and 2012. There is simply not enough fodder, feed and water resources to support animals significantly beyond the current population levels.

So, it means raising the share of productive in-milk animals within the total bovine population. But how feasible is that in today’s political environment, where many, if not most, state governments have enacted stringent laws against cattle slaughter — making it virtually impossible to dispose of unproductive animals?

milk, milk production, white revolution, cattle farming, agriculture sector, farmers income, India milk production, Narendra Modi government, National Action Plan for Dairy Development, Dairy Development A woman pouring milk at a village bulk cooler in Gujarat’s Surendranagar district. (Photo: Javed Raja)

The second component of production is milk yields per animal, which is expected to go up by 52 per cent between 2015-16 and 2023-24. How?

The Modi government, it seems, is relying greatly on the Rashtriya Gokul Mission that aims to raise the productivity of indigenous and nondescript cattle by creating a “super elite” population of Sahiwal, Gir, Tharparkar, Red Sindhi, Rathi, Kankrej and Hariana breeds. There would be a programme of selective breeding among the recognised 37 “pure” indigenous breeds, and also of upgrading nondescript cattle by inseminating these with semen from the “super elite” native bull population. This would mark a departure from the existing strategy, where the upgradation of nondescript animals — those with no defined breed characteristics — has sought to be achieved through crossbreeding with western breeds such as Jersey, Holstein Friesian and Brown Swiss. The wisdom of such a departure, given the implications for both milk production and farmer incomes, is questionable, as the accompanying article below points out.

Read | Cattle Breeding Policy: Desi breed conservation should not be at expense of farmers, milk output

The Action Plan, moreover, talks of enhancing artificial insemination (AI) coverage, without which no breeding strategy — whether via indigenous or exotic breeds — can obviously succeed. It envisages extending AI coverage to 65 per cent of the total breedable bovine population by 2021-22, from the present 25 per cent. Again, there’s no clarity on how this is to be achieved, other than a general statement that all states “would have to work out clear cut strategies … to improve AI coverage along with ensuring efficiency of [the] current system”.

Coming to incomes, higher milk sales by farmers and improved price realisations are predicated on the assumption that the share of production retained for self and local area consumption will fall from 48 per cent in 2015-16 to 40 per cent by 2021-22 and 2023-24. Further, the share of milk handled by organised cooperative and private dairies will shoot up from 21 per cent in 2015-16 to 33 per cent in 2019-20, 41 per cent in 2021-22 and 52 per cent in 2013-24.

With the aggregate procurement by organised dairies slated to soar from 873.06 lakh litres per day (LLPD) in 2015-16 to 4,259.79 LLPD — alongside a corresponding decline from 1,324.45 LLPD to 671.77 LLPD for unorganised players — farmers can expect to be paid better for the increased quantity they would sell, both on account of higher per-animal productivity and lower share of milk retained for self/local consumption.

But the dairy industry does not appear too convinced about these projections. “Where is the market to support 9 per cent-plus annual production growth? We are, as it is, in a surplus situation in milk powder and have been priced out of the world market. If output were really to touch 300 mt, who will buy all this milk?,” asked the managing director of a leading cooperative dairy concern.

Interestingly, the Ministry’s Action Plan document itself has projected the domestic demand for milk at 211 mt in 2021-22, 241 mt in 2025-26 and 274 mt in 2028-29. It, then, raises the prospect of a huge surplus, which cannot easily be exported out.

The chairman of a south-based private dairy, on his part, raised doubts over the feasibility of augmenting milk yields of animals within the time span envisaged in the Action Plan.

“Suppose I inseminate a nondescript cow with the semen of a superior bull, it would take nine months for the animal to produce a calf. That upgraded calf, assuming it is female, will take 15-18 months to grow into a cow ready for insemination. Adding another nine months of pregnancy, it would require some three years for the results of breeding to show up in higher milk production, provided everything turns out well. And here, they are talking of increasing the average annual milk yield from under 1,700 kg to nearly 2,600 kg per animal, that too, using indigenous breeds,” he noted.

Both he and the earlier-quoted cooperative dairy representative claimed that the industry wasn’t involved in drafting the Action Plan. “It was entirely their (Ministry’s) exercise and we were not even consulted,” they added.

But the real elephant in the room, which can potentially upset all assumptions and calculations, could be the recent anti-slaughter legislations and rising cow vigilantism. Their impact on milk production — especially with the management and disposal of unproductive animals becoming a veritable nightmare for farmers — is not known for now. That might not be the case, though, in the medium and long run.

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