The Sunday Leader

Milk Production In A Quandary?

  • Dearth of hybrid cattle varieties a key obstacle
  • Wrong decision to import cows – Unions

By Camelia Nathaniel

Sri Lanka is heavily dependent on imported milk, as the domestic production of milk is only around 25 to 30 percent of the total national requirement. Although the government has elaborate plans to increase national production and attain a higher degree of self-sufficiency in milk by 2016, the efforts seem to have encountered several snags.

Sri Lanka spends around US$ 400 million a year on the importation of milk powder, and international prices of dairy products continue to rise dramatically. While the milk powder importers has dominated the milk industry all this time, people have no choice but to purchase milk powder at their price as they have no other alternative.

However with milk powder prices ever increasing, the government has focussed its attention on developing the dairy industry with the aim of increasing domestic milk production to meet the national requirement. Under the Divi Neguma initiative, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa said earlier this year that the government was in the process of importing the best breeds of dairy cows which would be distributed among the local farmers at reasonable prices to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in milk production by 2016.

Accordingly around 2,000 Jersey and Friesian cows from Australia have been imported for the hill country farms. The government also had plans to import around 10,000 more cows which can adapt to the low country climate.

While the local cows are said to have the capacity to produce only between 1-4 litres of milk per day, the imported cows have the capacity to produce around 20 litres of milk per day on average. The General Manager of the National Livestock Development Board (NLDB) A. C. H. Munaweera told The Sunday Leader that currently the domestic milk production is around 250 to 260 million litres annually, while the national requirement stands at around 740 million litres. “In order to achieve self sufficiency in milk production we intend to modernise the local farms. Our farms are not commercial farms but they are breeder farms, and we provide the local farmers milk cows that can produce more milk at reasonable rates.”

Meanwhile the army, with the support of a foreign company, had planned to import 10,000 milk cows with the capacity to produce a colossal 60 litres of milk per cow per day, thereby greatly enhancing the country’s milk production capacity.

During a visit to the Kandakadu farm in Weli Oya last year, Colonel Buwaneka Gunaratne, Director, Agriculture and Livestock of the Sri Lanka Army told journalists that steps were being taken to import 10,000 cows from Australia to the army-run facility. He added that the project would be completed in two years and the production would be made available to MILCO.

According to information, the European company was in the process of negotiating an assurance from the government that the produce would be purchased by the government, in case MILCO failed to keep its end of the bargain, and the said company was in the process of finalising the agreement.

However, up to now these cows that were to be imported have not arrived in the country. When asked about the importation of these cows to boost the national milk production, the General Manager of the NLDB Munaweera said that he was not aware of the said importation of cows. According to calculations, if these cows had been imported as planned, Sri Lanka’s target of achieving self sufficiency in milk could have been achieved.

However not only the government but the key players of the industry have also taken steps towards increasing production to meet the local demand of 1.7 million litres per day, but there are many challenges that still lie ahead. From increasing production with the development of livestock to storage at the retail and consumer level, all aspects of the industry require development. According to the industry experts one of the main areas that require attention is the lack of storage facilities at the retail and consumer level to preserve the nutritive and qualitative value of the collected milk. The locally produced fresh milk should be at a level that would be competitive in comparison to imported milk powder. The NLDB states that all dairy farms are currently being modernised to increase production and quality of milk. Long-term goals of building up local dairy farms and encouraging dairy farmers to recognise the importance of dairy farming as a commercial industry are seen as significant steps in the overall development of the industry.

At present there are several constraints hampering the development of milk production in the country. This includes the low yields of milk in most local herds, the shortage of grasslands for feeding as other methods of feeding cost the local milk farmers way more than they can afford. As the NLDB general manager pointed out, however, that the dearth of hybrid cattle varieties is one of the key obstacles to develop the dairy industry.

However, according to the Livestock Development Instructors Trade Union, the importation of cows was not done in a proper manner, which resulted in animals with diseases being brought into the country. Speaking to The Sunday Leader its spokesman W. G. M. Bandara said that around 500 cows were imported from Australia last year but proper quarantine procedures were not followed. “Due to the negligence of the authorities these cows with a salmonella infection were brought into the country. It is highly unlikely that these sickly cows could produce the high quality milk as expected. Each of these cows cost around Rs. 300,000 and these 500 cows were imported at a cost of Rs. 150 million. They are housed at Bogawanthalawa. Of the pregnant cows that were imported by the Ministry of Economic Development 48 cows have had miscarriages. Moreover even the other calves that were born to the diseased cows have been found to have the disease, and are very weak.

According to our understanding we don’t think that importing cows bred in other countries to uplift the local dairy industry is not a practical and viable option.”

He said that the local breeds could be upgraded to produce more milk. “The NLDB and the Ministry of Economic Development have taken the wrong decision to import cows instead of offering the local farmers the modern technologies to increase milk production of local cows.

Our suspicion is that there is a huge racket taking place in the importation of these cows. Salmonella Dublin was last detected in Sri Lanka way back in 1960, and until these newly imported cows were diagnosed with it there were no cases of the disease reported in Sri Lanka,” he added.

According to Bandara there are good breeds of cows in Sri Lanka that have the capability to produce around 20 litres of milk per day. “It costs a great deal of money to import these animals and for their maintenance. In order to uplift the local dairy industry it is vital to set up a development wing at the Livestock Ministry itself. We can achieve the goals set out with the local breeds of cows and it can be done at just a fraction of the current expenditure in importing these animals. However, instead of taking the trouble to rectify the shortcomings in the local sector, the officials have taken the short cut in importing cows from other countries.”

He pointed out that another mistake made by the ministry was its decision to import these cows without consulting the local Livestock Development Instructors. “We are the ones that are directly involved with the dairy farmers. Yet the decision has been taken to import these cows from other countries by officials in air conditioned offices who have no idea about the local dairy industry.

Instead of taking decisions independently, what the department should have done was to discuss the importation with the livestock development officers, the farmers and the department prior to importing these animals without any proper plan. They should have set up divisions including the Livestock Development Instructors, and set production targets for the various dairy sectors to achieve,” he said.

However Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa said that the government is in the process of importing the best breeds of dairy cows which will be distributed among the people at reasonable prices to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in milk production by 2016 under the Divi Neguma programme. He said that while initially 500 cows were imported from Australia under the first stage, their number had increased this year to 950.

It is also learnt that the European company that was to import the 10,000 high yielding cows from Australia is expected to hold discussions once again with the Minister of Livestock Development A. Thondaman shortly. Though The Sunday Leader made several attempts to contact minister Thondaman with regard to this issue, he could not be contacted.

2 Comments for “Milk Production In A Quandary?”

  1. Hadeniya

    It is sad to see successive governments failing to appreciate that importing cows from abroad is not the solution to Sri Lanka’s milk production challenge. Without the conditions necessary for these cows to produce milk, this will be a colossal waste of valuable government resources.

    It is surprising that the Ministry of Livestock Development is unable to come up with a sound strategy to increase local milk production. Where are the professionals?

  2. කපිල

    කිරි බීමෙන් වලකින එක තමයි ඇඟට හොඳ.

    වසු පැටියෙක් දවසට කිලෝ එකක් ද කොහෙ ද වැඩෙනවා. ඒ තරම් පෝෂණය වැඩිල ඉවර වෙච්ච මනුස්සයෙකුට ඕන වට වැඩී. ඒ ඕන වට වැඩි පෝෂණය නිසා තමයි දැන් කලේ තියන බහුතරයක් ලෙඩ: පිලිකා, හර්දෙ අමාරු, දියවැඩියාව, ජඨරදාහය (ආමාශයේ දැවිල්ල)….

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