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Every year, World Environment Day serves as a reminder of our collective duties and responsibilities towards safeguarding the planet against the perils of climate change. Climate change affects everyone – humans, animals, aquatic life! The alarming rise in environmental concerns are making it essential to initiate result-oriented actions today in order to build a sustainable future. This is also important at a time when India’s economy is showing remarkable resilience globally, and thus, the need is to ensure this progress remains on the path of sustainable development.

Talking about the dairy industry, it is undeniably one of the important pillars of the country’s economy as it takes care of nutritional requirements of many, acts as a source of livelihood for millions, and contributes to the well-being of individuals and communities, thereby holding a significant importance for the overall growth of not only the society but the nation at large.  In addition to contributing to economic resilience, this industry carries significant potential to address climate change and contribute to the sustainability mission. By ensuring sustainable practices at each stage the entire value chain – procurement, processing/manufacturing, consumption and even post-consumption – backed by innovation, technology and collaborative efforts, the dairy industry can definitely essay its role in minimizing the environmental impacts. 

The advent of clean energy sources has paved way for a viable strategy at various levels. Installation of solar panels on the rooftops of milk collection units at the farm-level or even setting up of biogas plants can assist in generating clean energy at the very ground level and assist in varied operations across the rural hinterlands. The country’s farms have biomass available in abundance and with biogas plants, they can achieve sustainable and environment-friendly alternatives. In the year 2018, National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) initiated the work on cattle manure management and came up with end-to-end ‘Manure Value Chain’ model for small and marginal farmers of the country. Since climate change presents significant challenges to cattle health including heat stress, water scarcity, disease risks, extreme weather events and others, focus should be given on strategies and practices such as providing shade, improving water management, optimizing pasture practices, and enhancing disease control for improving cattle health and overall well-being. In addition to reducing dependence on conventional fuel sources, these steps will greatly contribute in localization of sustainability practices by linking common people like dairy farmers at grassroots to clean energy transition. 

At the processing/manufacturing level, efficient resource and waste management is another crucial aspect vital for all sustainability-related endeavours. Again, installation of solar plants or concentrated solar technology plants have been instrumental in allowing companies to embrace renewable energy. Water which is an important resource for both life and livelihood can be conserved with rainwater harvesting pits and can be re-used by treating it in water treatment plants or water recycling plants. Rainwater harvesting systems can reduce dependency on freshwater sources and water treatment plants can treat and recycle wastewater generated during operations. Also, efforts should be made to utilize organic waste, manure etc. for biogas production and reducing carbon emission. Moreover, biodegradable organic waste can be used as natural fertilizer which can reduce the need for chemical-based alternatives. These initiatives can serve as positive examples and encourage many to adopt similar measures and contribute to collective soil & water conservation and resource management efforts. 

At the consumer level too, we have come across various options over a period of time that assist in contributing towards the journey of sustainability. The need of the hour is to link the consumers to the sustainability mission, and this can be achieved by raising awareness and highlighting significance of sustainable consumption and practices. By promoting responsible choices such as token milk, safe waste disposal, recycling, minimizing food waste and supporting sustainability initiatives can bring visible results. Even a small step of educating the consumers of how to cut open a milk packet can have sizeable impact on reducing the small plastics that go unnoticed in waste. The onus is not only on the consumers but also on the companies too by coming up with offerings and options that can eventually help the consumer adapt to sustainable options. 

At the market level too, companies can explore varied options for making their operations holistically sustainable for instance reusable crates can be used as a secondary packaging option and inclusion of clean fuel based vehicles in the distribution fleet. As witnessed in other industry segments, dairy organizations should also strive to become plastic waste neutral.

To realize the sustainability goals, it is essential to adhere to sustainable practices in the entire value chain and the Indian dairy industry has undoubtedly stared its journey on a positive note. In the start-up age, we have seen many initiatives across other industries; nonetheless, there are multiple options to explore for the dairy industry too. I believe it is just a matter of time and we will come across start-ups coming up with innovative yet sustainable options for the dairy industry. On the other hand, the Indian dairy companies can also come together and commence research and development towards developing alternative packaging and delivery systems, paving way for sustainable options.

The Government of India too is according the highest priority to the Indian Dairy industry in a holistic manner. To tackle the issue of farm sector waste, many initiatives including ‘Waste to Wealth’ programme encompassing proper use of dung to shore up farmers’ income have been initiated for attaining growth with sustainability. The aspect of sustainability is important to the Indian dairy industry and the same was also discussed in various sessions during the IDF World Dairy Summit, World’s largest dairy summit, held in Delhi NCR last year. As a matter of fact, the summit itself was designed to be a carbon neutral event. Various measures had been taken to ensure that the event contributed to net-zero carbon dioxide emission into the environment, showcasing our capabilities to the global community. 

As we commemorate World Environment Day, we should identify how the industry can come together, make collective efforts to combat climate change by sharing best practices, knowledge, experiences and adopting innovative techniques and latest technologies. Though the present situation is marred with limited options, dialogues and discussion through summits along-with incentivizing sustainability, promoting research and innovation efforts, must be encouraged.

Source : Times of India June 04th 2023 by Manish Bandlish

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