Milk for thought!

India's milk industry - past, present & future!
Milk for thought!
Man transporting milk cansPhoto - CESAR AUGUSTO RAMIREZ VALLEJO from Pixabay

Once upon a time, eons ago, when our beloved country was renowned as Bharat, fabled rivers of milk flowed abundantly. Far and wide in the civilized world, we were glorified as Golden Bird. But wait, we are going ahead of ourselves, as we are only and only going to talk about Milk- the elixir of life.

Milk and its products, like buttermilk and ghee, were a part of our rich staple diet. Our guests were honored by serving them spiced buttermilk for beverage and a bowl full of ghee as a meal accompaniment.

Fast forward to circa 1970, our rivers of abundant milk have been reduced to a trickle. Our folklore is now an indelible part of our distant memory. We are a milk deficient country. The thirst for our liquid milk is quenched through majorly reconstituted milk, processed by mixing milk powder with butter oil. These two ingredients being provided to us as food aid by the developed nations of this world.

Fast forward to circa 1980. The entire milk industry in India has been turned on its head. We are now a proud net milk product exporting nation. Let me take you through what transpired in this decade which miraculously transformed India’s milk industry.

When the rivers of milk started flowing, again

I would like to dedicate this article to Dr V Kurien, the Milk Czar of modern India. He accomplished something unthinkable at the time. He practically made possible an improbability. He very ably helmed the most ambitious dairy development program on planet Earth. Aptly named Operation Flood, it transformed India from a milk deficient nation into the world’s largest milk producer. It was achieved through mass milk production by masses, an army of millions of farmers being the front liners.

We can safely divide our milk history into two time periods - BOF (years Before Operation Flood) and AOF(years After Operation Flood).

Up to 1 BOF, we were primarily dependent on our neighborhood dhoodhwalas for our daily milk needs. Very few states cooperatives dispensed milk from their inadequate milk booths, which would be functioning about two hours each in the mornings and evenings. There would be long serpentine queues of consumers waiting patiently to get their quota of the elixir. Milk could be used only for consumption as plain milk, and all milk products, including our favorite sweets, khoya, and paneer, would be banned during summer months to alleviate pressure on paltry milk availability, a violation of this diktat was a prosecutable offense.

Fast forward 10 AOF, our rivers of milk flow again. Gone are the milk queues. We are not deprived of milk products anymore, during summers as was the norm earlier. We don’t have to travel more than a few meters to fulfill our milk desire.

It is a well-known fact and a case study in logistics in many reputed national and global management institutes as to how Dr Kurien achieved this nearly miraculous end by mobilizing an army of millions of farmers. So, we are not going to dwell upon this. Instead, let’s dwell upon what further needs to be achieved.

Milk cans
Milk cans Photo - suju-foto from Pixabay

Miles to go

Before we proceed, it’s time to deliberate and regurgitate, for which I would like to provide some fodder and perspective. Milk production cost in major milk-producing countries globally is about 60 % of the cost in India. The bacterial load in our pasteurized milk is at least 40 times that of similar milk in Europe, Australia, and other milk-producing countries. As compared to 3 days shelf life of our pasteurized milk, they offer a shelf life of 21 days. Oh, my milk! How do they do it? Let’s extrospect.

Our farmers rear cattle, cows, and buffalos, their feed being agro-waste and other affordable food (read cheapest and surely low on nutrition) supplements available. India’s major milk production is unorganized (more than 95 %), and milk is extracted manually in an open utensil, with farmers owning one or more cattle heads. The average milk yield per day is about 8 and 6 liters from buffalo and cow, respectively. About 60 % of milk thus produced is either consumed domestically in rural areas or consumed in the unorganized dairy industry sector to be converted mostly into Indian sweets, khoya, and paneer. The remaining 40 % of milk is diverted to the organized sector. This milk is hygienically processed into plain milk and milk products like cheese, paneer, curd, and others in the organized sector, under various reputed brands. On average, milk takes 4 hours to complete its journey from the farm to the nearest chilling center or a dairy plant.

The milk production in the aforementioned milk-producing countries is in totality in the organized sector. Huge state-of-the-art and automated dairy farms, pedigreed cows, highly nutritious and wholesome feeds, good quality drinking water and vaccinations, are the norms. Resulting in a yield, hold your breath of 20 liters of high-quality milk per cow per day. Amazing, isn’t it. The milk is extracted by machines and immediately chilled and packed, and processed in situ. The entire process being enclosed.

Their cows are happy as compared to our sad cattle. The pathetic environment provided to these bovines will convert any hard-core milk lover into a vegan.

As a result, their pasteurized milk has a longer, much longer shelf life than what we provide, with subsequently much lower and intestine-friendly bacterial load. And hence their milk is lip-smacking delicious. Nutritional values are also markedly different.

In a nutshell, we consume quantity milk rather than quality milk.

So, What Next

We desperately need an encore to the Operation Flood. It would essentially entail a two-pronged strategy-increase milk production and improve milk quality phenomenally. To be implemented in phases, of course, the milk production in India is to be brought in the ambit of the organized sector. Throughout India, huge tracts of land should be made available to the private sector and milk cooperatives, who shall be coaxed and incentivized to establish huge capacity integrated milk plants (typically dairy farms to breakfast table model) with automated milk processing plants. In short, replicate the hugely successful overseas model.

The land should be made available to the interested parties at nominal purchase or lease cost. There should be a Government managed cattle breeding center to provide high-yield variety animals. Additionally, the import of high milch cows should be allowed at favored terms to the industry. These special-purpose parks should also have feed and vaccination processing facility. Funding for these projects is to be made available to entrepreneurs at very attractive and liberal terms.

As this would be classic infrastructure development, hence our Government’s hand in glove participation would be essential to its success. An infrastructure project needs lots of resources and long gestation for it to be made viable, which only a government has the wherewithal. Hence, our Government’s participation is imperative and non-negotiable.

And an able administrator, highly passionate and with guts of steel, to helm the project and drive it towards its logical conclusion.

Then and then only, we will have milk, with quantity and quality. And then, in the true sense, we will once again be a land where rivers of milk flow abundantly.

I think that the time is ripe, with increasing affluence and disposable incomes in India, to take a revolutionary and much-desired move once again. Our people need it. Our people deserve it.

Vivek Batra is chief executive officer and president of Amrit Corp (unit Amrit Food).

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