Only in a matter of three rigorous decades, India transformed its destiny from being a country witnessing acute milk shortage to a country leading the world in milk production, standing at 100 million tonnes in an average year.
Operation Flood (1970–1996) helped the rural milk cooperatives flood and nourish the urban dairy sector markets connecting via deeper networks of procuring and marketing milk across the entire nation.
This could not be done alone through strengthening supply chains but involved greater accessibility to veterinary services, penetration of technologies like Artificial Insemination ( AI) in dairy, awareness regarding proper feed and farmer education.
And consequently, the sector proponents could gain 4–5 percent per annum.
What about the boom now?
Though India enjoys a privilege and occupies the top-ranks in the world, with the industry worth INR 11,357 Billion that can be equated to the combined output value of both rice and wheat in India.
But this growth seems to have slumped to 3 percent in recent years.
This is worrisome as the estimation done by National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), has claimed this demand for milk to rise up to 180 million tonnes by 2022 because of population growth, rising incomes, inevitable urbanization and westernization of diets.
Instead, the sector being the single largest agricultural commodity with close to 4 per cent share in the economy, has suffered neglect in the Government annual budget, decline in investments and is now even facing the criticisms.
Though there is a greater convergence of various departments in schemes for the sector like the Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Department of Rural Development and different states’ governments.
It has another perspective to the same.
Millions of small and marginal farmers in India have been sustaining because of additional incomes from dairying, owning two to three animals and producing an average of 5 litres of milk.
It is worth noting that approximately a third of rural incomes are dependent upon dairying. It has never been separate from the farming itself, providing an impetus to circular economy.
The feed for farm cattle comes from the remnants of the crops while their dung can be used as manure to add productivity to the soil.
These pro-poor development strategies have found to be of greater benefits to Indian farmers as the livestock distribution is far more equitable than the so-called farm distribution in India.
Thereby, any change in the dairying environment will have astounding and rippling effect on the livelihoods of small and marginal farmers in addition to the social elevation of many.
The health security may perish along with the food security of the entire nation.
Farmers and their problems:
The country has witnessed greater shift of farmers from being mere stakeholders in the supply chain to the ones in the center of future decision making.
Several Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) are operating well and driving investments on their own. However, several challenges especially in the Indian dairy sector persists.
Low productivity per animal, hygiene, inadequate milk testing facility and dairy health issues and problems arising out of mismanagement like Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR).
A recent report by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has revealed the presence of aflatoxin M1 and other hormone residues in milk, that too beyond permissible limits.
We face tough competitions from the world leaders in dairy production like New Zealand, Canada, European Unions etc., being cautious of signing any delimiting agreement with such countries.
In fact, it was one of the reasons that prompted India to stay out of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
But its is not just the world countries we should be wary of. There is another bigger threat.
Indian Dairy Sector and the climate change :
Climate change has triggered a revolution across this planet. Both dairy farming as well as climate change have imposed great influence on each other.
It has been widely accepted now that Agriculture, because of its cattle rearing component, contributes about 16% of India’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, major gases being the methane (CH₄), nitrous oxide (N₂O) and carbon dioxide (CO₂).
Methane recently, has been found to cause significant damages to the planet, 75% of which comes from the dairy holdings itself.
Plus, apart from certain emissions, this sector is also accused of degrading several other crucial ecotones like wetlands, grasslands etc. as well as on other natural resources like Water.
Big diary firms like Nestle, Danone have been suspected as culprits and if we are to believe a report by Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (ITAP), these polluters continue ‘with impunity’ and may end up greenwashing.
As the Director IATP explains: “The climate footprint of Europe’s big meat and dairy companies rival the fossil fuel giants yet they continue to operate with impunity”.
“The handful of companies that have climate plans rely on accounting tricks, greenwash, and dubious offsets to distract from the fundamental changes needed to cut emissions, while off-loading many of the costs and risks onto farmers in their supply chains.”
Animal abuse, land cleaning, destruction of natural habitats, reckless trade and unsafe shelter facilities are already concerning.
But that is just not enough, especially in the current hour of Pandemic lessons to cherish.
The dairy also, acts as a storehouse for various zoonotic diseases.
In contrast, the climate change will probably impact milk production in cattle because of their sensitivity to excessive temperature and humidity conditions.
Also, with extreme heat in future, a constant supply of high-quality fodder for dairy cattle may become difficult to facilitate, let alone managing the nutritional status in the feed.
Similarly, as per certain Experts in the line, even the prevalence of certain parasitic nematodes or liver fluke will also rise with additional warming of Earth.
What can be corrected for the Dairy sector to sustain?
Even with the best of Climate data and Science at our disposal, one cannot correctly ascertain what’s to happen in future.
With nearly 150 million livelihoods at stake, the leaders of this generation will have to think of a distorted future as a probability and hence the need to chalk-out alternative employment opportunities for the people engaged to be sunken in.
Though there have been certain apprehensions regarding the efficacy of planting trees, social forestry can in any case, serve the humanity in this regard.
There are available Sustainable Dairy Practices through technological and farm based best practices, interventions as well as solutions.
Recycling of nutrients is essential to keep the circle of life going in the Biosphere. Hence one needs to ensure that Carbon sinks are in plenty and no process inhibits such refoulment of critical minerals.
Meanwhile, for greater adaptation and boost to energy transition, farms can use solar power to reduce their footprint or for recycling water coming from these cattle sheds.
In a warming planet, this may even find significance for cooling the living place for cattle but that is extremely far-fetched idea to deliver, especially in India.
But we shall be sure now that we need to inject resilience in Dairy farming, that too at a faster pace to be the leader of the world, at least in this sector.
Source : The Indian Wire 15th Dec 2021 written by Alaina Ali Begh published without any change