“Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference”
Sri Lanka is once again turning its attention to milk production. Government policy to decrease the reliance on imported milk powder used interventions such as; crossbreeding of the local cattle population with exotic blood, improve animal health service provision, dissemination of information and the marketing aspect. However, with all these interventions the supply of local milk production has not kept pace with the steady growth in demand. Hence, to meet this shortfall, milk and its products were imported at the rate of a 6.64% annual growth from 1985 to 2012, or from 30,000 to 83,818 metric tons. Yet the policy makers continue to support this mode of intervention without looking for other possibilities to check this situation. Furthermore a 200% increase in milk price was observed from 2000 to 2012.
Hence, it is crucial that Sri Lanka needs to boost its local milk production to meet the increasing demand in the cheapest possible way. However, even without much financial and infrastructure interventions in the Dry zone (DZ) from the private sector or the government, it has supplied 64 % of the nation’s milk and 60% of the national ruminant meat during the past several decades having 74.0% (760,580), 66.6% (151,587) and 78.7% (257,986) proportion of the cattle, goat and buffalo respectively. This is gross underperformance as the livestock sector has the potential to more than double the production in the DZ. This article is an attempt initially to identify the root cause of underperformance in this area, highlight reasons for this and finally to suggest remedial measures to reach the maximum potential of the DZ.
The reason for this is that livestock in the DZ produces all its milk and meat by consuming poor quality annual and perennial grass, browsing vegetation, and nonfood biomass from crop residue. Furthermore, in the absence of comprehensive data on DZ production, most data and information provided to policy makers are estimated and speculated figures. However, this area has the potential to double its milk and meat production within the next three years with purposeful investments. This is possible as such purposeful investments from the private sector with partial support from the Government have increased the annual maize production of 40,000 m. tons in 2005 to 160,000 m. tons by 2011 primarily from the DZ.
Dry Zone food production
The DZ consisting 63.5%, of the total land area has low rainfall coupled with high potential evapotranspiration (PET) rates. Consequently, farmers experience water deficits for much of the year limiting the rain-fed growing period to less than 150 days per year and extensive habitation is only possible where water is stored for irrigation. Crop production initiates with rains or with the availability of tank water in the DZ and harvested at the end of the season, but animal products such as egg and milk are produced throughout the year, without seasonal restrictions. Past studies highlighted the fact that there is a seasonal variation in milk collection and production, where it was captured by the monthly variation in milk procurement. The national monthly in milk collection from year 2003 to year 2009 in figure 3 confirms the variation within the year shown by Ibrahim et al (1999) .
It could be predicted that from the Standard week 16 to 40 (May to October) there will be shortage of grass, fodder and tree leaves for livestock. Furthermore, from Standard week 40 to subsequent year week 16 there is an ample amount of moisture for crop and grass growth. In fact there is an excess of soil moisture for a lush growth of vegetation. However, the most unexpected observation is that the DZ milk collection (Milco data 2003 - 2009) as shown in figure 4 is lower during the rainy season, than in the dry period, where there is ample amount of annual and perennial grass and browsing vegetation. It is surprising that such earlier studies on the dairy sector have failed to reveal this information, thus preventing measures to mitigate this situation by the government or private sector.
"The significance of Dry zone farmers’ ability to produce more milk with fewer inputs is poorly captured in official statistics and is misunderstood. So much so, that the fact that milk collection and production in the rainy season is lower than in the dry season has not been revealed in any earlier studies"
However, the observation in milk collection and production in the WZ is different from the DZ (figure 5). Throughout the year variation of milk production is less as compared to the DZ, but this variation too could be avoided with proper management measures. Underperformance in WZ may be due to other reasons different to the DZ. As mentioned earlier the WZ with more support from the government and private sector were able to cope with factors affecting DZ milk production in a better way; however there still is room to be improved to increase milk production from these areas.
The variation of milk collection and production in the Wet Zone is negligible, even in the dry period as in the wet period monthly milk collection shows no sharp difference. This indicates that the underperformance issues in these areas have to be resolved separately from the DZ. The following table shows the estimated production loss from monthly variation in milk collection from 2003 to 2009 by Milco Pvt. Ltd.
This national loss in milk production is based only on the underperformance in collecting milk from the DZ during the wet period when there is an abundant amount of livestock feed. However, the effect of the loss of revenue to farmers can have a major impact on future milk production in the DZ.
The significance of Dry zone farmers’ ability to produce more milk with fewer inputs is poorly captured in official statistics and is misunderstood. So much so, that the fact that milk collection and production in the rainy season is lower than in the dry season has not been revealed in any earlier studies. The importance of this has a bearing not only on economic losses to farmers due to the loss of production of cattle not performing to its maximum genetic potential but will also cause a national consequential economic loss to the dairy industry as the continuity of dairy farming depends on the performance of the herd as an underperforming herd may discourage farmers due to poor economic turnover. Yet the policy makers continue to support time tested mode of interventions that have not had continuing impact on milk production, without looking for alternative possibilities to check this situation. The clarification to understand the underlying principles for this condition will be discussed in a later article allowing experts time to deliberate on the findings in this article.
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