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The green roadmap of the White Revolution

India’s dairy sector’s growth story is impressive but is overshadowed by low productivity. A NITI Aayog Working Paper titled “India’s White Revolution: Achievements and the Next Phase” has listed key challenges that the country needs to overcome to fully unlock the potential of its dairy sector. The working paper authored by Ramesh Chand can be a ready reckoner for stakeholders in the dairy sector in Assam to overcome the challenge of the lowest productivity among all states despite growth in milk production.

Three key challenges for the dairy sector in the country identified in the document are: low productivity of milch animals, increased emission of greenhouse gases by the ruminants, having detrimental effect on climate change, and very low share of export. Assam accounts for the lowest yield of 1.43 kg per day per cow, compared to 13.31 kg per day per cow in Punjab, which is the highest yield among all states, while the national average is 5.15 kg/day. Buffalo milk yield (3.45 kg/day per cow) in the state is more than cow milk yield but less than the national average of 5.90 kg/day, while Haryana accounts for the highest yield of 9.63 kg/day, followed by Punjab with 9.46 kg/day.

Comparative figures put Assam’s growth story in the dairy sector in perspective and point towards the scope for further growth by focusing on increasing the productivity of dairy cows. The NITI Aayog’s paper recommends that “increase in productivity needs breed improvement, improved breeding practises like artificial insemination, better feeding, and better maintenance and health care of livestock.” It highlights that the per capita production of milk in India has now exceeded the recommended dietary allowance, as recommended by the National Institute of Nutrition-Indian Council of Medical Research, which is 377 grammes per person per day, and that India has already emerged as the largest milk producing nation in the world. Ironically, the country’s share in global dairy exports is less than one percent.

Global dairy exports for the year 2021, according to the document, were valued at 63 billion dollars, while India’s total dairy exports were valued at only 392 million dollars. Clearly, the spectacular increase of 64% in export volume of the country’s dairy product to Rs. 4742 crore tells not just the growth story but also about the untapped potential. The NITI Aayog recommends that the goal and vision of the dairy industry for the next 25 years, i.e., during Amrit Kaal, should be to make India the world’s largest exporter of dairy products. Ramesh Chand has sounded a word of caution against the indiscriminate use of chemicals in commercial dairy. This is affecting the quality of livestock and milk and also has implications for the environment, he states, and he points to studies that have shown that the urine and dung of animals containing chemicals affect soil microbes and greenhouse gas emissions. He also harps on the need to monitor the presence of antibiotics in the milk and check it appropriately, which deserves the urgent attention of the dairy stakeholders as it involves public health issues and must not be ignored.

The document attributes much of the growth in milk output during the last 50 years in the country to an increase in the population of dairy animals but warns that doubling the population of female bovine from 122.7 million in 1972 to 246.7 million in 2019 has “serious ecological and environmental implications” on account of the doubling of Green House Gas emissions by dairy animals. According to a study by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the global dairy sector contributes 4 percent to the total global anthropogenic GHG emissions, and dairy sector GHG emissions are associated with milk production, processing, and transportation, as well as the emissions from meat production from dairy-related culled and fattened animals. The dairy sector’s ability to address the fodder crisis arising from rising fodder prices and a shortage is crucial to increasing productivity.

The small and marginal farmers own over 80% of the country’s livestock assets but own only 44% of its agricultural land. Unless fodder supplies at affordable prices and in adequate quantity are ensured to these small and marginal farmers, overall milk productivity in the country and more particularly in Assam and other north-eastern states cannot be expected to increase to address the problem of reducing carbon footprint and GHG emissions in the dairy sector. The states in the region can certainly focus on leveraging the country’s Act East Policy and Neighbourhood First Policy for deepening trade and commerce with south and south-east Asian countries to explore the dairy export market in the neighbourhood.

Higher productivity will boost production, and surplus milk can be processed into a range of dairy products for channelling to export markets in the neighbouring countries. For Assam, the immediate challenge is to increase productivity at least to the level of the national average and facilitate the marketing linkage to rural milk producers.

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