We’ve all read / heard extensively about how the White Revolution or Operation Flood changed the face of milk production in India. Small milk producers in Gujarat and the rest of the country found their voice through the cooperative movement. More than 30 years after that “revolution” India is still the largest milk producing nation (17% of the world’s milk production according to NDDB reports from 2010-2011) but the small milk producers who contribute to 80% of the milk production in India are in debt traps and not a part of cooperatives that support livelihoods (for an incisive report on small farmers and global milk production see – http://www.grain.org/entries/4426-the-great-milk-robbery). What has happened?
As in agriculture so in dairying – skewed Government policies have contributed extensively to this situation. Exotic breeds of cattle more at home in the temperate climes of Western Europe were indiscriminately introduced into the country with the promise of 25-30 litres of milk production/day by each animal. Government programmes drove this into the homes of small farmers through captive channels like the women’s Self Help Groups. These resource intensive animals which require huge amounts of green fodder (grass), feed, water (for drinking and to be kept cool in the torrid heat of the Indian summer) became “white elephants” in the homes of small farmers. Not only did they require resources in the form of water and food but their medical costs were very high because these animals were more susceptible to diseases in the tropical conditions where they were introduced – purer the breed more susceptible it is to disease! In addition, cross-breeding them with native, hardy breeds led to destruction of the local gene pool of native cattle breeds. E.g., the Gir cow, a native of the Gujarat area, that reportedly produces 48-50 litres milk / day has pretty much vanished from India. The irony is that today we are importing the semen of the Brazilian Gir, which was developed locally from stock imported from India early last century, to revive the local Gir!! (see http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2010/09/holy-cows-acclaimed-abroad-despised-at.html).
This fascination with exotics has wreaked havoc on the largely rain-fed countryside with farmers being driven into debt traps. What has made the situation even worse is the pricing of milk. Most small farmers are pouring their milk to Government dairies where the price offered for milk has no relationship to the expenses incurred by the farmer in producing the milk. So the small farmer who is struggling to maintain this “white elephant” with the hope that it will produce the “promised” milk and bring money into the house is left watching the money slip from the dairy to the bank /money lender…..with this skewed price all he / she is doing is servicing loans. Where is the promised livelihood or “poverty alleviation” from dairying???
Summer is usually the time when milk demand is high and milk supply falls (lack of water and therefore not enough grass to feed the cow and so low milk yield). However this summer in parts of Chittoor and in Karnataka, milk availability has been high…why I am not sure. However, as a result Government dairies have a surplus and to disincentivize farmers from producing milk, dairies have slashed milk prices! The cow’s udder is not a tap that can be shut off! How will these small and marginal farmers particularly in rain-fed areas reeling with drought pay off those loans if they cannot sell the milk produced? The very same Government departments and dairies who promised loans and pushed small farmers into buying exotic cross-breeds (no subsidy if you do not buy a cross-breed!) do not want to touch the milk.
When is the Government and the Planning Commission going to wake up to the ground realities? Why are there no subsidies and no insurance facilities provided for local, hardy breeds of cattle? Why is the price of milk not linked to the cost of production of milk by the farmer? In the midst of this crisis the Government of India wants to throw open the dairying sector to the EU under the EU-India Free Trade Agreement. In one sweeping action this will destroy livelihoods and lives in rural India.
I think we should just close down all Government Departments / Ministries that ostensibly speak about rural development. This way at least people are not living with the illusion that we as a Nation are committed to “inclusive growth.”