In the aftermath of the recent controversy over the import of powdered milk to the value of a staggering Rs. 45,000 million, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2014 Budget outlined proposals to revive the local dairy milk industry. It had been a flourishing and nourishing industry till the 1970s, when a trans-national company gradually and subtly destroyed the local dairy milk industry, thus forcing Sri Lanka to import shiploads of powdered milk which people-friendly nutritionists say is not half as nourishing as fresh milk. To add to the crisis we are wasting 45 billion rupees in foreign exchange every year to import powdered milk, some stocks of which the Institute of Technological Industries found were contaminated with a possibly harmful chemical.
The President said in his Budget speech on Thursday that in the Rajapaksa regime’s effort to reach self-sufficiency in fresh milk, the local milk production had increased and supplied 40 percent of local consumption requirements. He said the import of 4,500 high-yielding cows had contributed to improve the production of Government dairy farms. But local dairy and nutrition experts say there are about 1.2 million milk cows in Sri Lanka but only some 200 thousand of them are being fully used. The experts from the Maubima Lanka Foundation ask why Sri Lanka needs to import cows when for thousands of years Sri Lanka dairy farmers provided all our fresh milk and till the 1970s the National Milk Board did a good job in marketing the fresh milk with milk booths at every junction.
The President said private sector dairy farms and small or medium enterprises had substantially increased their investments in this sector. Further, the Divi Neguma incentive encouraged backyard dairy activities. Many experts believe such backyard dairy activities or small-scale farmer co-operatives are the most effective way to increase and sustain fresh milk production, with a national corporation handling the collection and marketing arrangements effectively.
In the Budget speech, the President said he proposed to allocate funds to import a further 20,000 high-quality cows to promote small and medium dairy farms and increase the annual average yield in excess of 1,500 litres of milk from a cow. A special loan scheme at an interest rate of 8 percent would be implemented in support of SMEs in the dairy sector to promote dairy farms, collection centres and equipment, the development of animal feed industries and related matters.
Experts and analysts, while welcoming the President’s moves to bring about self-sufficiency in fresh milk, are questioning the need to import 20,000 cows which may also need imported fodder, which means we might even have to import some special grass.
A few days before the Budget, Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister and New Zealand’s Foreign Minister who was here for the Commonwealth Summit, signed an agreement whereby New Zealand would play a major role in the development of Sri Lanka’s dairy milk industry. The analysts ask whether the 20,000 cows will be from New Zealand and whether a trans-national company would have patent rights and other powers which would enable it to play the role that the National Milk Board once did.
If that happens our once-honoured farmers who for generations have been at the heart of our civilisation will not benefit.