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An Innovative Short Cutto White Revolution in the Newera

17 February 2015 10:38 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Sunil Rodrigo
Agro-based socio-economic background is a common phenomenon in the country. Dairy farming, which is the most common acceptable secondary income generation activity, has been considered as a characteristic feature in developing the rural sector and as a tool in eradicating poverty, throughout the last few decades.

Struggling dairy sector
Although the entire local milk processing process depends mostly on the small dairy farmers that count around 340,000 throughout the country, unfortunately due to various reasons, still it has not been considered and implemented as a viable enterprise at all the levels to attract new investments, as well as young entrepreneurs. It still remains a challenge towards the development of this sector due to the non-recognition of the small dairy farmer as a main stakeholder in the dairy development value chain by other stakeholders and the government.

In most of the government budgetary speeches, policy and political statements, commitment expressed, rural economic developments programmes initiated, still the growth of the industry is stagnated at very slow growth rate. The need of a healthy future workforce and population and the wide recognition of the dairy industry as an appropriate rural industry emphasized the role that could play by small dairy farmer to achieve local economic development.
The historical and influential role played by milk in our society, especially in the rural villages, from the days of our ancient rulers up to the present political decisionmakers, so far not met with expected outcome despite huge expenditure allocated during the past few decades and trial and error method development strategies in developing the industry.

Although it has been recognized as a vital tool for economic development and food security at early childhood, the trial and error method, lack of infrastructure and the prevailing behavioural patterns of the service providers and the end recipients, so far have failed to record a measurable significant growth in the last three decades.

Dependency on exports
The result is dependency on exports, which is going high as much of the diary product - especially milk powder sold in shops - are either imported or produced by lead firms that would often import milk powder to make either reconstitute or recombine milk for their milk product manufacture, such as yoghurt/flavoured milk and ice cream, etc., due to insufficient supply of fresh milk in the country.

In our country, more than 23 percent of the country’s newborn children are under the required birth weight, mainly due to the malnutrition factors. As the country is looking forward to establishing an efficient future workforce, it is a necessity to consider a few factors in improving the dairy industry, as it is considered by the policymakers as a major part of the local economic development.

The low consumption level of services such as education/ health as well as inadequate food security, gives very high malnutrition rates among the children and high rate of early deaths. The poor services of the public and private sector service providers available for application of their day-to-day just-in-time requirements in dairy and agrobased activities are the major factors that inhibit the growth of rural economy, specially in the dairy and agriculture sectors.
Both service providers and the end recipients face notable constrains in achieving productivity of small dairy farming due to various and commonly identified factors that still remain unsolved despite so much efforts of the relevant ministries, agencies and institutions to overcome these bottle necks [Poverty eradication of small dairy farmer 2002 by Lincoln University/The ILO enter growth dairy value chain developed in North Central/North Western Provinces-2008/Small Dairy farmer development by ILO 2007].

Developing sustainability
It is essential to develop sustainable livestock, agriculture and ICT development activities at rural level, which is a vital factor for economic development in our country. Although the usage of ICT-related activities are known technologies and methodologies in the urban and suburban areas in Sri Lanka, the application of ICT for the day-to-day life and local economic development in the rural areas is still far behind when compared to the other countries in the region. At the same time, the women and youth, who play a significant role in the household economy, have made us to recognize them as our main focus group in developing the dairy industry.

There have been a number of researches and proposals made available towards developing the small farmer dairy industry by sector experts and academics but none of these proposals have been implemented at grass roots level, depriving the farmer as well as the industry growth due to partial political and policy decisions taken and implemented so far by the relevant public/private sector organisations involved in the dairy industry.

There were a few common constrains highlighted in all these previously done reports and proposals, such as low farm gate price, low productivity, inconsistent government and industrial policies, lack of approaches to develop, promote and introduce dairying as a sustainable enterprise at small and medium level, failure to make use of ICT application as a networking tool for rural development.

Although the government increases the milk price, low farm gate prices for farmers are a common practice and a function due to either middlemen or organisation involvement in inefficient collection systems. The daily low production volumes at farm gate level deprived the farmer the proper price for his milk as he has to depend on a third party to sell his milk as a result of poor herd development, due to distorted just-in-time services by public services.

Improving productivity
The growth of the industry will depend on a few major factors, improved productivity, availability of a work force within the family to continue the existing small dairy farmer milk cow rearing, just-in-time services towards productivity and health management of rearing milking cows, availability of genetically improved suitable cows, farmer skills development, feed development and improving the profitability of dairy farming.

Hence, it needs to address these issues to improve the productivity and profitability of smallholder dairy farming, which would lead to local economic developments. Although these issues have been identified through various reaches and projects, none of the remedial activities proposed in these reports have not been implemented so far in an appropriate manner to address these issues to develop the small dairy farming activities of the country.

In a short cut towards achieving productivity of the smallholder dairy industry, the implementing activities should be acceptable and feasible to attend by the smallholder dairy farmers at rural level. The writer’s handson experience in the local and international smallholder dairy development and some of the activities practiced and made success stories, intended him to make this proposal, ‘Short cut to achieve 20 percent growth of the milk production within three years’ period’.

The most important on the way forward actions are improving the health condition of the animals that lead to improve their body conditions to come to regular heat circles that make them pregnant every year with an appropriate technology application and introducing appropriate genetics application enabling the farmer a constant milk production, improving farmer skills to apply updated technology application that would attract younger generation to get involved with small dairy farming as an enterprise at village level and introducing high nutritive fodder such as Moringa leaves that enable the farmer to improve the profitability by reducing the cost of production of milk at herd level.

Further, application of traditional methods of medicine such as ‘Kohomba’ to get rid of parasites to improve the health condition of the animal and the barns would also help to reduce the high cost of such chemicals being used at the moment by most of the farmers.

E diary extension
Usage of e technology has become a common approach in every aspects of the lifestyle minimizing the cost, time and productivity in the respective services throughout the country right now but the approaches taken to introduce these into a mobile-enabled extension system failed due to irresponsible decision-makers in the dairy industry.

The Information Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka is an institute implemented under the direct guidance of the Presidential Secretariat. In its efforts to apply usage of information and communication technology in improving the rural lifestyle of the pro-poor community that count 70 percent of the country’s population, selected the dairy industry as an important sector to be developed at rural level as a productive income generation activity.

A pilot project that attempted to use of the current trend of the community at all the levels using SMS in their dayto-day needs to make use of it to bridge the existing gaps of the extension services and the end recipients was launched in the Wayamba Province in 2009/10 along with a web to make aware the young generation in regard to the prospects of the dairy industry as an acceptable enterprise.

The easy to operate touch screen computers had been introduced for farmers creating a close link up with the ICT application at grass roots level. It was a very successful pilot project and the lack of attention by the respective authorities and the decision-makers led the project, which costs Rs.10 million [funded by ICTA and Dambadeniya Development Foundation], to be abandoned without any reason other than finding an operating cost of around Rs.40,000 per month, as well as lack of interest shown by the Animal Health and Production Department of Sri Lanka.

Communication gap
The outcome of t his project was t o bridge t he communication gaps between the dairy farmer and the service provider, enabling both of them to provide just-intime service to attend the extension needs of the farmers.

Both farmers and the service provider were given training throughout a one-year period to handle and operate the system and the lack of enthusiasm shown by the public service providers lead to discourage the farmers using the system. This was a very simple process facilitating the farmer to improve the productivity of his herd by having a calf every year assuring him a constant milk production throughout.

The public service providers have hardly made worthwhile efforts for fodder development in the country. No need to address land issues but to introduce growing Moringa along their parameter fences would have been enough to provide a highly nutritive fodder to the cows that would increase the milk production at least by 30 percent.

Grasses are not accepted in their households as a ‘crop’ and encouraging them to grow highly nutritive grass verities in a small piece of land would help them to maintain their milk income, when comparing with their other agro activities, which are seasonal, even though farmers do not fully use available local feed resources. As a result, large quantities of available local feed resources are currently wasted.

The available statistics show us that in the year 2013 the annual milk production was 156,546,000 litres [both cow and buffalo milk] from 408,690 milking cows giving us a per animal daily production average of 2.2 litres. In cow milk production, it was 305,930 cows that produced 265,161,600 litres of milk giving per animal daily average of 2.4 litres and in buffalo milk 64,008,000 litres given by 102,760 buffalo cows with a daily average per cow 1.7 litres.

Reaching self-sufficiency
These figures of the Statistics Department indicate that whatever the policies and strategies implemented by the government at a significant cost, there has been no productivity growth in the dairy industry like in the other nations of South Asia, which enjoy a per animal daily milk production of more than four litres - we are still stagnated at around 2.2 litres per animal.

The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has t he monopoly, being the prime and responsible agency that provides extension services and animal health through the divisional veterinary services to address the dairy farmer needs at their door steps. However, in most of the provinces the existing situation has made the animals gradually become non-productive although the existing data shows a larger dairy cow population of 62 percent.
Further, the farmers are not empowered enough to address their own problems despite the efforts of the government to bridge these gaps that prohibit the growth of the industry at village level.

Self-sufficiency of milk was a very attractive topic used by the policymakers, economists and decision-makers of the industry but there have been no proper methodology shown in calculation of the current self-sufficiency of the local milk production other than the said figures of 30-40 percent of our daily milk consumption being produced locally.

The available statistics [2013] shows that 2.2 litres per cow is produced in the country that produces 40 percent of our milk requirement. It is a very simple argument that by improving the daily milk production of a cow from 2.2 litres to 4.4 litres, we could achieve the 80 percent selfsufficiency in milk production.
Market and farm gate prices

In the other way the statistics show that there were 363,350 dry cows that was not giving any milk and if we could make them milking cows with no efforts the milk production would increase by another 292,651,580 litres per annum that would give us an approximately 70 percent self-sufficiency in milk production.

Looking into these figures we could easily find a short cut to establish a white revolution to reach self-sufficiency in milk within a very short period, approaching and setting up a feasible teamwork and implementing procedure to achieve the goals. It should be started recognizing the farmer as the main stakeholder of the dairy value chain in the country.

The farm gate price of milk should be in accordance with the market price of bulk powdered milk available in the market as if the farm gate price of milk is higher than the reconstituted milk. The majority of the processors at all levels goes for powdered milk rather than using fresh milk for their products that would lead to farmers not being able to sell their milk.

It once happened in the past as the farmers had to throw out their milk to drain as the processors kept to purchase only limited quantity fresh milk from the farmers for their milk product manufacturing process. It is very important for the decision-makers to take into account these factors when deciding the farm gate price for milk.

Empowering women and youth
During 80s, the Mahaweli livestock farms with the guidance and authority from the Minister Gamini Dissanayake followed a breeding programme to rear high breed imported cows and bulls in Mahaweli breeding farms and distribute the F1 heifers to settlers at affordable subsidized price to improve the milk production.

As a result, in the Mahaweli areas the milk production in 1994 could be increased by 90 percent compared to 1988, which was the started up year in the project. Hence, applying these success stories along with the available NLDB livestock farms as well as encouraging private sector investors to initiate such breeding farms with subsidized financial assistance, would enhance the effort of the government in developing the smallholder dairy industry to achieve self-sufficiency in milk at least by 2020.

The unproductive manner the local dairy industry flows discourage new entrants and the younger generation to consider and continue dairy farming either as an income generation activity or an enterprise. Hence, empowering women and youth to take up small dairy farming as a viable enterprise, will attract them to fill the existing gaps of family labour availability, which has been already made an impact in developing this household industry.

To make a small dairy farmer a recognized stakeholder in the dairy value chain, there should be regional processing units started with small dairy farmers, as at least 49 percent shareholders of such regional milk processing companies. Interested private sector companies should be encouraged to initiate such projects at least in a few provinces.

Achieving 50 percent growth of milk production along with implementing the activities of this short cut will not be a miracle. Hope this would be an eye opener for decision-makers. This shows that not only the logistics and infrastructure inputs but the proper communication at grass roots level too could play a major role in developing the national production growth level to achieve selfsufficiency.
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