The controversy, conflicting claims and confusion over the Milkgate crisis is being sorted out in the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka.
A Cabinet sub-committee has recommended that two of the main proposals made by the 15,000 strong Government Medical Officers’ Association and people-friendly nutritionists be approved and implemented immediately. In terms of this, Sri Lanka would gradually reduce the huge quantity of powdered milk it is importing at the staggering annual cost of about US $ 350 million (more than Rs. 40,000 million) while the Central Bank announced on August 29 it would direct State and private commercial banks to give big loans at low interest rates to farmers and farmer societies to accelerate the revival of the country’s fresh milk industry.
The CBSL’s Regional Development Department recently launched a commercial scale dairy development loan scheme with the aim of ensuring self sufficiency in fresh milk and milk products in Sri Lanka. It was launched at the Salgastenna dairy farm in Nittambuwa with Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa as the chief guest at the ceremony. Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal and the Livestock and Rural Community Development Ministry Secretary R. Kendaragama were also present underlining the importance the government is giving to the revival of the fresh milk industry which some trans-national corporations virtually destroyed with their propaganda weapons of mass deception in the 1970s.
The CB said the dairy industry had the potential to grow rapidly contributing to the overall economic development and creating thousands of direct and indirect employment opportunities with the infusion of fresh capital required to acquire new technology and machinery. It said high breed herds of milching cows were also required but the CB needs to reconsider that move because agriculture specialists say there are about 1.2 million milch cows in Sri Lanka, but milk is being obtained from only about 250,000 cows. Thus the Economic Development Ministry, the Livestock Development Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Ministry of Scientific Research and Technology and others need to work collectively to make full use of the 1.2 million cows in Sri Lanka, because importing high breed cows could create other problems. Although dairy farming has been a thriving industry in Sri Lanka for thousands of years, the industry today is able to supply only about one third of Sri Lanka’s requirement of milk products.
Therefore the new moves to revive the local fresh milk industry need to be implemented urgently and effectively because foreign milk powder prices are rising and with the declining value of the rupee Sri Lanka might have to waste more than 350 million US dollars annually to import powdered milk.
The CB said that to achieve this goal, it was necessary that the Sri Lankan dairy industry must transform itself from small-holder dominated livestock industry to a viable, medium-to-large-scale commercially oriented private sector engaged dairy industry. Here again agriculture and nutrition experts believe this perspective of the CB is essentially a financial viewpoint because small-holders also could play a big role as we see in many rural areas today, and they need to be encouraged. For instance the Chief Priest of a temple in Kurunegala produces a substantial amount of milk daily, puts it in cans and goes in a three-wheeler to deliver fresh milk to people living around the temple. Going only for large-scale projects with mega private sector participation could over–commercialise the milk industry and turn it into a big business. If that happens, the essential goal of providing quality fresh milk at affordable prices to the people would be lost.
Another related crisis that needs to be handled was highlighted in a Sunday newspaper. It raised questions as to how and why the annual scientific sessions of Sri Lanka’s main association of paediatricians came to be sponsored by a dairy giant which is at the centre of the ongoing Milkgate issue. Such conflicts of interest and unethical practices are known to occur regularly and medical officers or consultants need to ask their consciences whether asking for or accepting such sponsorships is anywhere in line with the hallowed Hippocratic Oath which the Daily Mirror published in full in an Editorial last week.