Dairy Diaries of Bangladesh
The yearly milk demand in Bangladesh is 1200 crore litres. We can locally produce 2.3 million MT of milk; however the country is capable of producing more. Due to improper planning, we can't reach the target of our expectations. Private milk producing companies are doing a handsome job recently. They believe, if there is proper farm management, involvement of the rural community and quality breeds, the demand can be fulfilled.
PRAN is one of those private companies which works towards promoting the milk industry. You would probably recall the episode on PRAN dairy, aired on Hridoye Mati O Manush. Recently, I visited Atghoria village in Pabna's Chatmohor region after five years. They are now working with an advanced system called the 'Hub'. They make hubs by involving twenty surrounding villages. They already have one in Natore and trying to make another in Rangpur district.
The objective of the hub is to develop better cattle breeds and to provide a training facility for the farmers. I went to a model farm belonging to a local farmer, named Sirajul Islam. A small tin-shade space was used to farm Sirajul Islam's small cattle farm. For the advanced rearing of cattle, you need a good quality 'food-house', necessary space for the cattle to walk around, a cemented floor, planned food management, breed development, etc.
He received better breeds from PRAN. The target is to provide farmers with a planned structure for rearing their cattle with better health facilities so that things can become even better than they are now. In many cases, marginal farmers have become the driving force of the industry and many a times, it happens to be the other way around. One complements the other. This is how the milk industry moves on, which is all about meeting the nutrient demands of the people of Bangladesh. When the demands are met, the lives of many small and marginal farmers are connected; stories of poverty eradication are also connected in the same way. Farmers like Sirajul Islam have stories of successfully coming out of extreme poverty, thanks to milk farming.
“I had a small place with two cows. Now I have nineteen cows, worth Tk. 15,00,000, as I made good profits. Now, my children are able to attend school. Apart from the monthly expenses, I make a profit of around Tk. 30,000”, said Sirajul. The success is spreading across the region and many farmers are doing extremely well in a steady pace. I spoke with another local farmer who's also thriving in the milk industry.
“I spend around Tk. 32,000 and earn approximately, Tk. 42,000.
“Which means, you make Tk. 10,000 as monthly profit?”
“Yes”, replied the happy farmer.
There are added benefits of doing cattle farming as well. The cow dung is the primary raw material and resource for renewable energy; whatever remains, is best for quality organic fertilizer and the leather from the cattle contribute to the leather market. Above all, milk itself has immense importance as nutrient to build an intelligent and a strong nation.
The days have changed. In rural areas, you get milk from the farms, not from farmers' houses. And in cities you get ice-cold milk from small shops or departmental stores. There are many questions in this progress. How much demand could we actually be able to meet? What is the actual method towards meeting the demands of the people? What is the global standing of the milk production in Bangladesh? What can we do for the further betterment of milk production in Bangladesh?
Farmers have a dream and so does the industry. With the introduction of developed cattle breeding, more milk producing cows have come in to the dairy farming scene of Bangladesh. I spoke with a rural female farmer who has been engaged with dairy for a long time.
The cattle need proper medication, vaccination, along with better fodder. And farmers are happy to get medication and support which is really helping them a lot. Farmers are also trained on producing more milk from their cows. I found a trainer over there who was demonstrating the proper way in which a farm should be maintained, he was telling farmers that the cows shouldn't be tied up in the farm; instead they should be allowed to roam free, so they can walk around, sit, eat grass, straw and can drink water whenever they feel like it. He said that doing so makes the cow stronger and healthier because, after all, the cows do need to exercise a bit.
I was walking around the village and saw a woman milking her cow on her home's yard. She was doing it fast and with a happy face. I asked how things are going on and if she is having a good time.
“I'm leading a much better life now.”
How is that?
“First I borrowed a cow from a neighbour. After making profits, I bought another one. Then, I returned the cow to my neighbour. I returned all the dues. Now, I can directly sell the milk to PRAN, which is a wonderful opportunity for me.”
I was so impressed seeing a farmer selling her produce directly. And, all across the country, things should be like this where the farmers have the upper hand and are regarded as key contributors to the state.
However, things are not the same; most of the time, it narrates the stories of misery and frustrations. There is also an uncertain waiting period for selling the milk. Many of the farmers never return with a fair price. And many a times, they come back empty handed. I went to a nearby market where farmers were locally selling milk. I spoke with the farmers there and they just burst out. So, a different scene was still waiting for me with a wholesaler, circled by farmers.
“Do you think farmers are getting a better price now, Mr. Wholesaler?”
Yes, this year, they're getting a very good price.
“Who's getting good price? Stop talking nonsense”, a farmer entered in the conversation and starts arguing with the middleman.
“You're getting a good price… listen…” the middlemen tried to convince the farmer.
“The husk price alone costs me Tk. 25. And highest price at which I sell is Tk. 30 per liter.
We are the sufferers and you're telling fabricated stories.”
The middleman departs the scene without any convincing answer. And that is how farmers' depression mounts.
In 1973, on the river bank of Boral in Baghabari of Sirajganj's Shahzadpur upazila, Baghabari Milk Vita was established in a cooperative method. Since then, private initiatives taken root in the milk industry. Now, the industry has become quite big with many companies including BRAC, PRAN, Akij, Aftab, Rangpur Dairy, Ultra Milk and Tatka Milk. They all want to stand firmly on their ground with the help of farmers. Likewise, millions of milk farmers want to become self-sufficient. Now the country has advanced processing facilities that include preservation, pasteurization and ultra heat treatment. The industrial process brings dreams for the farmers. But, for many reasons, the farmers and the industry are facing a diverse crisis. The success stories of farmers that you have been reading so far; have changed a lot.
“Many of us have taken out mortgages on our lands and have taken loans to start cattle farming. During the last winter, we produced a lot and we were told not to stop producing by people from the industry. Then, we applied for more loans to buy more cows. Now, during summer time, they're not taking milk from us”, said a farmer who believes his investments were for nothing.
Readers, there is a background story. The poor quality imported powdered milk is being sold at the markets at low prices in Bangladesh. The price of our local milk is high because it has quality and it's much healthier. But, consumers are driven to the poor quality milk, just because of the low price.
People who dreamt big with the industry face many odds. I spoke with Amjad Khan Chowdhury, the CEO of Pran Group. “It's very frustrating that the government has reduced duty on imported powdered milk. That means, you are discouraging our local liquid milk production”, said the dejected CEO. In reference to this dilemma I also had a talk with the CEO of Tatka Milk – Md. Ali. He brought a different issue to the discussion. “There is just no protection for the local milk. Consequently, Bangladesh's local milk can't even compete with the imported milk. Farmers are throwing away the milk on streets, not because they have produced more, but because they can't sell what they have produced.”
Advisor (Milk) of Akij Food & Beverage, A.Z.M. Sayem is stressing on other issues regarding cattle farming, by saying, “There is no quality cattle feed, medicine and barely any grazing grounds for the cattle. There is also no one to monitor this.” “I believe we can mitigate the unemployment crisis with the extension of the industry”, added Mr. Amjad Chowdhury. “Bangladesh produces 2,300,000 MT of milk and imports 55,000 tons of powdered milk which is only 15% of the locally produced milk! This is very surprising to us”, added Md. Ali. “Another very significant factor is breeding… a very important factor. We don't have any national policies on breeding which many other countries already have,” said A.Z.M. Sayem.
Dear Insight readers, the entire milk industry is now in front of many questions. The concerned people are worried on the issue whether they would be more import-dependent or would they take effective measures to save the industry, which is composed of investments from millions of small and marginal farmers. The prospect of the dairy industry is still unexploited due to poor support and incentives from the government to increase milk production. An integrated policy support will contribute to faster growth of the dairy industry in Bangladesh for sure.