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The dairy sector

  1. New industrial policy
  2. WAPDA and the IPPs
  3. Annual development plan delayed
  4. Trade deficit increases by 39 per cent
  5. The Dairy industry

In search of a revolutionary approach

By Wajeeha Naz
Mar 06 - 12, 2000

Pakistan ranks 7th among milk producing countries, with an estimated 21 billion liters of milk produced annually. Although this level of milk production seems adequate on a per capita basis for today's population, lack of processing and poor distribution system in a long hot weather (milk has a shelf life of only four hours under moderate temperatures) keeps it from reaching consumers in areas that are either deficient in milk production, particularly the urban centres, or those that are difficult to access.

The UHT process, although expensive, has proven to be a success in Pakistan as it increases milk's shelf life to 12 weeks. On the other hand, the pasteurization process inspite of its low processing cost, has not made much of a headway due to the short shelf life of its product and its dependence on cold chain from production to consumption. Taking advantage of this cost factor, some milk marketers have begun marketing loose milk in Lahore and suburbs, which they claim to be pasteurized. Test results have shown that bacteria levels in this milk are sometimes as high as in the raw milk, putting to risk the health of consumers who may be consuming it without boiling and raising serious questions about the claims of these milk marketers. Unfortunately, in the absence of any government monitoring and quality control, such companies are having a field day making huge profits at the cost of the ignorant consumer. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the German aid agency GTZ is financially supporting one such group without ensuring the quality of the end product being marketed.

Pakistan's potential to increase its production manifold and become an exporter of processed milk has also largely remained unexplored due to the inactivity of the government and the related bodies which were created with so much of fanfare.

Unlike other progressive countries where sale of raw milk is disallowed by law and processing is mandatory due to milk being one of the two major carriers of diseases (water being the other), Pakistan continues to allow 98 per cent milk to be distributed through the traditional gawala system. To the bacteria of tuberculosis and hepatitis that naturally occur in milk, the gawala adds many more varieties through the addition of contaminated water for its dilution. The contractors, who collect milk in bulk from villages in Punjab through the dodhis — the middlemen, and sell it to the urban consumers, go a step further. They add un-hygienically produced ice slabs, caustic soda and sometimes formaline to the milk they collect to prevent it from going bad due to intense heat in summers. As the milk temperature rises during the long collection time, the bacteria in it begin to multiply very fast releasing acid that begins to sour and curdle milk. With the addition of caustic soda the contractor prevents milk from curdling by neutralizing the acid, but the proteins get destroyed in the process and the sodium level increases. The product that the contractor delivers to urban consumers the next day is of an extremely poor quality in terms of purity, nutrition and health. The unsuspecting consumer, struggling to meet the challenge of the rising cost of living, opts for, what he perceives to be, the cheaper milk, falling victim to the exploitation of the loose milk sellers. The result: poor consumer health and the rising national health bill.

Besides consumer health, the urban environment is the major casualty of poor government response to the acute problem of milk production, processing and distribution. To reduce carriage cost and milk losses, and facing no public or administrative resistance, milk sellers have set up large cattle colonies right in the middle of heavily populated urban centres, playing havoc with health and environment. The human population is inhaling and consuming animal excreta — a leading cause several diseases among the population living in the vicinity of the cattle colonies. A case in point is the Buffalo Colony in Malir in the suburb of Karachi, which is one of several such unorganized cattle colonies around this metropolitan. Spread over a very vast area, this colony houses several thousand animals with no arrangement for the disposal of their waste or sanitation of any kind. It is the worst example of an environmental disaster of gigantic proportions. The fact that the Karachi administration chooses to ignore this situation, for fear of creating a shortfall in milk supply to 11 million people, speaks volumes about the bureaucratic apathy and inaction in the face of such a grave public health issue and clearly depicts its lack of vision and the inability to find futuristic solutions for milk supply to its population. Municipal administrations of other large cities are no different.

It is now time for the provincial governments, particularly of Punjab and Sindh, to deal with this problem more proactively. For an increasingly undernourished nation milk assumes great importance as an essential part of its diet, particularly for children, and it is imperative, therefore, that the issues of increase in its production, processing and distribution are tackled on progressive lines.

To begin with, the provincial governments must impose a ban on the keeping of cattle within the municipal limits of all urban areas. These cattle should be shifted to properly structured and organized milk zones established away from the cities and towns in the adjoining milk shed areas of the rural belts. Efforts should be focused on bringing increasing quantities of milk under processing, eventually eliminating the sale of raw milk altogether.

In view of an extremely dismal performance of the inept and corrupt provincial livestock and dairy departments — which have proved to be mere white elephants, attention needs to be focused on establishing and strengthening a cooperative movement for rapidly revolutionizing the dairy sector on modern lines, just as India has very successfully done next door.

Brought under the net of the cooperative system, the milk zones should be provided proper infrastructure including roads, waste disposal and veterinary care units. This will not only induce city based milk producers to willingly move to such organized zones, it would attract more farmers to take to milk production as a viable and profitable venture. Experience has shown in India and elsewhere that a cooperative system is the most effective mechanism for the resolution of the milk farmers' problems. It can help improve the farmers' know-how about good animal husbandry practices, bring about breed improvement through selective breeding of better local buffalo varieties and help develop indigenous dairy technology, including promotion of small scale milk processing units to produce pasteurized milk, yogurt and cheese. Through the involvement of agriculture research, it can also effectively address key issues such as the development of high yielding, multi cut and more nutritious green fodder varieties available throughout the year and ensuring availability of feed supplements like cotton seed cakes and molasses.

Non-availability of credit to small milk farmer is yet another bottleneck in increasing milk production. To enable farmers to increase their herd size, easy micro credit schemes need to be designed that will help them increase milk production and income, contributing directly to rural prosperity. Progressive farmers could also be provide credit for small to medium milk processing units to improve shelf life, prevent losses and ensure adequate distribution of safe and value added milk products.

Urgent attention also needs to be focused on the gradual replacement of low milk producing buffaloes with high milk producing local crossbred cows. Farmers as well as the consumers in Pakistan continue to prefer buffalo milk due to its high fat content, inspite of the fact that solid non-fats in the milk, not the fats, are important for the human body. Unfortunately, this preference has kept our milk production very low. The Indian cooperative system has already succeeded in persuading farmers to switch over from buffalo to cow as the milch animal of choice and this has enabled them to increase their average per animal production to 3000 liters per lactation cycle, as against our 1000 liters. This has resulted from substantial research and effort and there is no reason why the Indian experience cannot be made use of, particularly when the climate, the culture and the farmers have a great deal in common.