Milk is the what sustains farmers in the rain-fed hills of Namhol in Himachal Pradesh. An initiative of six or seven families taken in 2001,when they pooled 37 litres every day for supply to 15-odd consumers,has spread across 26 panchayats today.
Their milk producers cooperative society,Kamdhenu Krishak Avam Upbhokta Hitkari Manch,collects 8,150 litres daily from 141 villages. More than 1,500 farmers are directly involved in milk production. Most of them own very little land,there is no irrigation,and monkeys would destroy whatever crop they tried to grow.
Milk has become my family’s bread and butter, says Sita Rani,whose two cows supply 10 litres a day for Kamdhenu Manch. I earn Rs 8,000 to Rs 9,000 a month. Earlier,it was tough to sustain the family of five with our small,rain-fed land yielding nothing. Now I can even save a little after meeting our needs. Twelve or 13 families in my village followed my initiative to switch to milk.”
Milk collection is done twice,in the morning and evening,almost house to house. Depending on quality,families are paid Rs 20.50 to Rs 29 a litre,the payments made on the seventh of the month. Some 5,000 consumers get ‘Kamdhenu’ milk at its outlets in towns like Bilaspur,Barmana,Ghumerwin,Sundernagar and Daralaghat,besides Shimla.
The cooperative has invested Rs 12 lakh in setting up a 1,000-litre milk cooling system and packing line,besides a milk testing lab and cold storage. Surplus milk is used to make paneer and ghee, says Jeet Ram Kaundal,secretary of Kamdhenu Manch.
Historically,too,Namhol has been a milk producing area of Bilaspur,a mid-hills district where small holdings and lack of irrigation made agriculture unviable,unlike districts such as Shimla,Kullu and Solan that are known for apple and off-season vegetables. Recently,however,Namhol has seen some innovative farmers switching over to cash crops and vegetables in polyhouses.
Rajkumar,a 32-year-old youth of Khanoj Jeri,who started one-and-a-half-years ago with one cow,is a member of Kamdhenu Manch. He now owns three cows.
I have repaid my bank loan. Life has changed since I started selling milk. Whatever crops we grew in the absence of irrigation were destroyed by monkeys. Not many farmers grow crops; they sell milk, he said.
The cooperative has 100 kisan clubs and nine cluster organisations linked to it. They facilitate loans for cattle and cattle feed. The World Bank-funded Mid-Himalayan Watershed Development Project holds regular workshops to train them on dairy farming,medicines for cattle,rainwater harvesting,hygienic milking,quality fodder and feed supplements.
Poor veterinary services,however,are an area of concern. The absence of qualified veterinary doctors in Namhol is a serious issue,which we are constantly asking the government to address. If cattle are in good health and get proper veterinary care,the quality of milk will remain the best, says Nanak Chand,president of the Kamdhenu Manch.
The Kamdhenu success story contrasts with a struggle by the government-run Himachal Pradesh State Cooperative Milk Producers Federation Limited. It used to collect milk from dairy farmers across the state but ran into losses of Rs 26.49 crore. It owes Rs 4.80 crore to milk producers in Shimla,Kullu,Mandi and Sirmaur districts. The government has assured it will bail out the federation with at least Rs 13.50 crore,which it will use to pay milk producers their arrears.
There is no parallel institution except our NGO Kamdhenu,which has provided milk producers an option in selling milk at the best price, says Kaundal. The Himachal milkfed collects around 70,000 litres whereas the milk demand in Shimla alone is 50,000 litres.