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India’s White Revolution – Achievements and the Next Phase

The dairy sector in India has shown very impressive growth since the beginning of Operation Flood launched in 1970. Before this, milk production was not even keeping pace with the growth in population in the country. Because of this, per capita milk output declined from 132 grams in 1955-56 to 110 grams in 1973-74. This led to serious shortage of milk and milk products in the country, like shortage of staple food during mid-1960s which led the country to go for adoption of green revolution technology.

Milk output in India increased by meagre 1.36 percent per year during 1950-51 to 1973-74 which was lower than population growth rate. As a result, per capita availability of milk in the country dropped by 15 percent in this period resulting into increase in milk deficiency in the country. The shortage was met partly through import and aid in the form of milk powder. GOI launched operation flood in 1970 to achieve breakthrough in milk production. This produced quick results and milk production outpaced population growth after 1973/74. Fast growth in milk output enabled India to raise per capita milk production to 387 gram per person per day by year 2018-19 which is higher than average Recommended Dietary Allowance(RDA) for the country.

The recent data on milk output shows annual growth rate of 5.3 percent. It is important to mention that growth rate in milk production accelerated after 2005 when the emphasis has shifted from exotic breeds to indigenous breeds. What is special about growth of dairy sector is the nature and quality of growth. The growth of dairy sector has been pro-poor and pro-women besides being resilient.Second, growth of milk did not require particular endowments, like irrigation, good soil etc. It only required efficient marketing of milk. Where ever, marketing outlets were set up to mop up milk, dairy sector witnessed impressive growth.

Cooperatives have played major role in this.Since the beginning of green revolution, dairy sector has shown higher growth than crop sector throughout. There is enough evidence to show that white revolution has been stronger than green revolution in India.The lead taken by dairy sector over crop sector has increased after liberalisation of domestic and international trade.Further, our milk production is increasing at more than 5 percent per year and has the potential to grow at even higher rate for a long time, as, productivity of India’s milch animals is very low in most of the states of the country.

Till the mid-1990s, US topped all countries in milk production. In the next 25 years India started producing more than 2 times the milk produced in USA. Its share of India in world milk output has almost doubled in the last 25 years and the country now produces close to one-fourth of world milk output. Other attractive aspects of growth in dairy sector are that it is pro-poor and pro-women and helping the county to make fast progress towards SDGs. What is more astonishing is that dairy sector is growing without input subsidies and output price support. These achievements are spectacular and no less than a miracle. The dairy sector contributes one-fourth of the total income generated in the agriculture sector and this share has been rising.

Challenges : Dairy sector faces three major challenges: (i) low productivity of milch animals (ii) increased emission of greenhouse gases by the ruminants, having detrimental effect on climate change and (iii) very low share of export.

Much of the growth in milk output during last 50 years is due to increase in the population of dairy animals. This has serious ecological and environmental implications. The number of female bovines in India increased from 122.7 million in 1972 to 246.7 million in year 2019. Thus, while the base of dairy in the country doubled, the base for crop production has not increased (net sown area has remained around 140 million hectares). When this is factored in, the edge that the dairy sector has over crop sector reduces significantly but still remains quite large.

Doubling population of female bovine means GHG emission by dairy animals has doubled in the last 50 years. Future emphasis should be to achieve growth in milk output through growth in productivity and moving towards food system approach. This will require improvement in the quality of breeds, feeding material and practices, better upkeep and health of livestock.

Per capita absorption of milk and milk products in the country has almost doubled during the last 20 years. This growth along with the level of intake implies that milk has made the highest contribution to improve nutrition in the country.

The success of dairy revolution in India is not translated into export. Dairy export constitutes only 2.6 percent of India’s agri export reported by APEDA (crop plus livestock) which is much lower than 24% share of milk output in value of crop and livestock output.

The situation has shown big change in recent years as volume of export of dairy products has increased four times in four years after 2017-18. Dairy export doubled in 2021-22 to reach Rs. 4742 crore and increased by 64 percent in volume. Still exports are less than 0.5 percent of total domestic production of milk.

Next Phase

Per capita production of milk in India has now exceeded the recommended dietary allowance, as recommended by NIN-ICMR, which is 377 gram per person per day. This herald a new phase in India’s dairy development. India has already emerged as the largest milk-producing nation in the world. Milk production is poised to remain on high growth trajectory as milk yield per animal is very low in most of the states of India.

According to FAO, milk yield of Indian cow is only 2/3rd of the World average and it is much less compared to milk yield in developed countries. World average milk yield per cow is 7.2 kg and India average is 4.87 kg. Even though India is biggest producer of milk the milk yield is quite low. According to GOI estimate average daily milk yield in the country is 5.15kg for cows and 5.9 kg for buffaloes. There is very wide variation in milk yield across states.

Milk yield of cow range from 1.49kg in Assam to 13.31 kg in Punjab. Similarly, daily milk output per buffalo varies from low of 1.61 kg in Odisha to 9.63 kg in Haryana. These variations indicate scope to substantially raise cow milk yield in Assam and most of the other NE States, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. Increase in productivity needs breed improvement, improved breeding practices like AI, better feeding, and better maintenance and health care of livestock.

Thanks to various phases of Operation Flood, India is now producing more milk than the recommended dietary allowance of 377 gram per person per day. The country has already emerged as the largest producer of milk in the world with one-fourth of global production. But India’s share in global export of dairy products is low. World dairy export in year 2021 was valued at US$ 63 billion whereas India’s export was only $ 392 million (0.62% of world total). The goal and vision of dairy Industry for the next 25 years, i.e. during Amrit Kaal, should be to make India largest exporter of dairy products. This is a tall order, but, looking at the past achievements of dairy sector, it looks attainable though challenging.

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