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Independent.ie

Saturday 23 March 2019

India poised for a great dairying leap forward

The world's largest milk producer, India plans to double production by 2023, writes Ned McCarthy who recently visited Mumbai

It's not uncommon to see cows grazing on rubbish in Bombay
It's not uncommon to see cows grazing on rubbish in Bombay
Mumbai’s gleaming waterfront business district
Milk production outlook graphic
Bhagyalaxmi dairy farm is the largest in India, milking 1,200 cows, and is based on the American model of dairy production.
Reflecting the inequality in Indian society, there is a start contrast between Mumbai's gleaming waterfront business district and the slums of Dharavi (pictured).

Ned McCarthy

India is the world's largest milk producer, accounting for over 17pc of total global production with a dairy sector that employs over 90m people and is estimated to be worth €8bn per annum in sales.

Like Ireland, India also plans to expand production, but its target of doubling milk output by 2023 makes Ireland's Food Harvest 2020 objectives appear modest by comparison.

How realistic is the Indian plan? Only time will tell, but while the OECD outlook for global production by 2023 predicts India will fall short, it still expects the growth of its dairy sector to outstrip that of any other country in the world.

Typical Indian dairy farms are small in size, but like everything in India there is a huge diversity, from the farmer with one cow living on waste food to the 1,200-cow herd milked in a rotary parlour.

I visited Bhagyalaxmi dairy farm, the largest in India and one based very much on the American model of dairy production.

It milks 1,200 cows averaging 7,500kg milk at 4pc fat and 3.4pc protein. Only 100pc worldwide sires are used and all the milk is processed on-site.

Great care is given to bio-security as foot and mouth has not been eradicated from India. A full-time vet is employed and cows are kept indoors and calf all year round.

On the outskirts of Mumbai I came upon a number of dairy farms dotted together on a small area of ground. Cows are just kept on the ground they stand on. Farms are laid out in industrial-style units and all feed is brought in.

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One such farm I visited had 50 cattle in total. Cows are milked by hand and five men are employed producing on average 400 litres per day, all year round.

Milk price is 48c/l and it's sold to a dairy for liquid milk in Mumbai.

Processing

Processing and retail costs are incredibly low as milk sells in Mumbai for less than 57c/l.

It's estimated that 77pc of the final price of an Indian milk product on a shop shelf goes back to the farmer - compared to less than 50pc in the EU.

Most milk in India is still produced from buffalo and I got to visit Bhajansons dairy farm north of Mumbai.

The farm has 800 buffalo and 100 cows and they are kept cool with a sprinkler system and are milked with bucket plants by approximately 50 staff.

All the milk is either sold direct to the consumer in Mumbai or turned into a range of products that are sold in the farm shop where the range of milk sweets and drinks is very impressive.

Al feed is brought in and the buffalo are fed a diet of rice straw, wheat, maize meal, soy, bran and a sugar cane by-product. The meal is fed wet and mixed in a very labour intensive way.

The vast majority of Indian farmers, however, have only a couple of cows and even in parts of Mumbai city itself cows are kept and milked on the streets.

People bring their waste food and leave it on rubbish piles for cows to graze.

I got the impression this is considered advantageous for good Karma. It certainly brings the idea of low cost milk production to a whole new level.

Milk is sold directly to locals and is in demand for approximately 57c/l.

I came across a herd of cows grazing on a pile of rubbish on my way back to the airport.

When I asked if I could meet the farmer, I was told that he was gone on his milk round. No fences to be moved or gaps to be open here - just let them of to graze on the streets.

Factories

Milk and milk products are sold in small dairies dotted around Mumbai. I came across one such dairy at the side of the road that runs trough Dharavi slum.

Dharavi is said to be the largest slum in Asia and is estimated to be home to 1m people, as well as 15,000 single-room factories on 535ac of what used to be a swamp.

Using a taxi driver as a translator I wandered in along a couple of alleys that run between the small slum dwellings. What surprised me was the pride the residents seemed to take in their homes.

Typically a family would live in two rooms, a kitchen downstairs and a bedroom that can be accessed by climbing a ladder. I was told that the cost of renting such a house was about €4 per month.

The houses had electricity and running water, but semi-open sewers run in the middle of the narrow alleys.

It was common to see very poor looking dwellings with satellite dishes on the roof. In a way this epitomises modern India.

Even in extreme poverty people are still very much aware of technology.

I saw children here in school uniforms and people seemed to have at least a hope of bettering themselves.

As basic as the conditions are in Dharavi, people still seem to be able to live with some degree of dignity.

It is estimated that the district generates up to €800m from its cottage industries every year.

Overall, the city of Mumbai seems to be going through a building boom.

Everywhere there are signs advertising new housing developments and the newspapers are full of the promise of a dream life in a new apartment.

Yet the number of homeless people on the streets is alarming.

Indian society places a huge value on education.

You might have seen the sketch about the Indian mother changing the words of the nursery rhyme to: "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…all because she neglected her studies as a child."

One result of this emphasis on education is the huge number of Indians who become health care professionals. Medical 'tourism' to India is a growing industry.

While I was there, I spent €250 on two new crowns for my front teeth, a fraction of what it would cost here.

I didn't avail of a facelift, nose job or many other medical procedures on offer, although I'm sure there are some who might think that was a missed opportunity.

On my visit to the Dairy Universe 2014 event held in Mumbai Exhibition Centre, I got to see some of the latest developments in Indian food processing technology.

I invested €77 on a stainless Paneer mould and I also saw a very innovative flow metre that looks like it would be very easy to keep clean. It is expected to retail for less than €500 and has won innovation awards in Germany and Britain.

At this kind of money it's something I could see being used on Irish farms.

It would be foolish to underestimate the potential of Indian innovation and technology.

To put it in perspective, India has recently managed to send a satellite to Mars at a cost of just over €60m.

That's just one-tenth of the cost of NASA's Mars probe. It's even less than some of our Irish milk processors are spending on what they would have us believe is space-age technology.

It's this competitive advantage that will make India a real force to be reckoned with in coming decades in everything from dairy production to space exploration.

Ned McCarthy is a dairy farmer from Clohina, Kilnamartyra, Macroom, Co Cork.

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