Mumbai: For two days now, dairy farmers across Maharashtra have been dumping milk in different ways. Some have poured it on the road; some on stones and idols, calling it the traditional religious practice of ‘abhishek’; while some have handed over milk bottles to the local tehsildar in a symbolic gesture of dumping their stock with the government.
The dairy farmers have been hit hard by the lockdown and, led by multiple farmers’ organisations, have taken to the streets to demand that the state government grant each of them a subsidy of Rs 10 per litre.
Ajit Navale, a functionary of the All India Kisan Sabha, said: “Before the lockdown, farmers were getting almost Rs 30-35 per litre for cow’s milk. Today, though the situation is slightly better than the first few months of the lockdown, farmers are getting just about Rs 17 per litre. This is nothing as compared to the rising production costs.”
Navale added: “Today, we are pouring milk on stones. Tomorrow, if the government does not take a serious note of the issue, we will dump milk on the doorsteps of members from the ruling parties.”
Sunil Kedar, Congress leader and Maharashtra’s minister in-charge of the animal husbandry and dairy development department, held a meeting of all stakeholders — farmer leaders, cooperative and private dairies — Tuesday afternoon.
Anoop Kumar, principal secretary of the department, told ThePrint: “Their main demands are a per-litre subsidy directly into the farmers’ accounts and the state’s intervention in facilitating the export of skimmed milk powder. The minister heard them out, but no decision has been reached yet.”
The state government has already introduced a scheme to procure excess milk and indirectly help farmers get better realisations, but activists like Navale say the scheme hasn’t improved the situation.
How the lockdown affected dairy farmers
The lockdown caused a steep drop in the demand for milk as restaurants, sweet shops and bakeries were shut, ice-cream makers had halted production, and there were no weddings or other community functions.
An official who works with Kolhapur’s Warana dairy said: “Our sales dropped by almost 30-40 per cent. We have been converting our excess supply into skimmed milk powder.”
However, with all dairies facing the same problems and taking the same options, there is a glut of skimmed milk powder now available, causing its prices to crash as well.
“Milk powder price fell from Rs 300 per kg to almost 160 per kg. That is not affordable for us. Most dairies are storing milk powder as much as possible instead of selling them at this price, but storage capacities are also limited,” the Warana dairy official added.
Most large dairies procure from smaller milk centres who, in turn, procure directly from dairy farmers. With the lockdown, larger dairies faced hurdles in milk procurement as well, given the shortage of labour as a result of not enough ‘essential service’ passes being given on time. As a result, the milk procurement by dairies dropped by about 20-25 per cent, and procurement prices fell to between Rs 16 and Rs 22 per litre.
State has procured 5.61 crore litre milk
To help farmers tide over the excess milk crisis, the state government has launched a scheme for dairy cooperatives to procure up to 10 lakh litres a day, and convert it into skimmed milk powder and butter. The scheme, which was initially for two months until the end of May, was extended for another two months until 31 July.
Anoop Kumar of the animal husbandry and dairy development department said: “About 16-18 dairies participated in the scheme and we were able to handle the issue of excess milk to a great extent and provide relief in the main catchment areas. We were able to procure almost 5-6 lakh litres of milk on a daily basis.”
He added that the state government has procured 5.61 crore litres of milk as of 19 July, and that the total allocation for the scheme is about Rs 200 crore.
The idea of the state scheme is to auction the skimmed milk powder and butter on a central government portal. However, as prices of skimmed milk powder crashed, dairy owners, especially those that were not part of the scheme, suffered heavy losses and milk procurement prices dropped, Kumar said.
Navale, meanwhile, claimed the scheme did not do much the remedy the situation.
“Almost 78 per cent of the total milk in Maharashtra comes from private dairies, which were not included in this scheme. As a result, farmers from just 12 talukas benefitted from the scheme partially,” he said. “The government could actually procure only half of the ten lakh litres per day that it had promised.”
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