Save the dairy
In the last couple of years, the Government of India is indulging in entering into a clandestine free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union, which would require us to reduce import tariff on dairy products to zero per cent. It is notable that European countries give huge subsidies to their dairy producers to promote and safeguard their dairy sector. If subsidised dairy products are allowed to import into India, our dairy products would not be able to withstand the competition.
Development of dairy sector in the last four decades have benefitted the national economy in general and farming community in particular. Today we produce 35 crore litre of milk daily and India has the distinction of world's largest producer of milk. In 2012-13, total milk production in the country was valued at Rs 4 lakh crore. If we compare the production of any single agricultural produce, may it be rice or wheat, milk values much higher than any single crop. Milk production has surpassed 1300 lakh tonnes, whereas production of largest single agricultural crop rice’s in 2012-13 was 1040 lakh tonnes. Therefore one can conclude that farmer gets higher income from milk than any other produce.
Another important factor is that woman play an important role in milk production much larger than their male counterparts. Due to large scale procurement of milk by cooperative and private organisations, women empowerment has got a major boost. They have not only been gainfully employed, their social prestige has also enhanced. It is notable that whereas share of agriculture in GDP was 38 per cent in 1980, the same has declined to 13.6 per cent now. However, milk which is not part of agricultural income, gets farmers a sum of Rs 4 lakh crore. Had milk production not grown, farmers would not have remained in agriculture as dairy production helped in boosting their incomes and provided a major source of nutrition.
On the eve of Independence, per capita availability of milk in the country was merely 129 grams per day. Today this has reached 233 gram per day. Production of milk got a boost after 1970, when a special programme started in the name and style of ‘Operation Food,’ Fast increase in production of milk in a short period of time is also called ‘White Revolution’. Leader of this revolution, who is also called ‘India's milk man’ was Dr Kurien. Today the nation is fighting against the menace of malnutrition. In this context it is notable that whereas per capita availability of foodgrain has declined in the last 20 years, rising per capita availability of milk, definitely gives us a sigh of relief. Therefore dairy sector has worked hard to save Indian agriculture and provide nutrition to the nation.
Role of cooperative movement, especially ‘Amul Model’ was instrumental in the dairy development in India. Today organised and unorganised sector both have been helping in dairy development in India. In organised dairy sector, cooperatives have dominant presence. Milk is procured from small milk producer from all over the country. Thereafter in the processing units, takes place the value addition when milk is processed and purified in most modern plants. In the process more than three-forth of the price of the milk goes to the farmer, which is exemplary.
Though India has made significant progress in dairy sector, and income of the farmer has also increased significantly, future of the dairy sector is in danger, as government is entering into international and regional trade agreements in the name of free trade. Dairy sector in India is already faced with several problems like indifferent attitude of the government, FDI in retail, old and less productive breeds of cows/buffalo etc.
If we import milk and other milk products at say 10 per cent cheaper, our domestic producers may not be able to compete with the imported stuff as our famers would be deprived of the fair price for their milk, in tune with domestic cost of production. The farmer who is already facing the brunt of rising cost of milk production will be pushed out of the market. Milk production of the country would be adversely affected and India’s dependence on imports would go up. Farmer for whom dairy production means supplementing the income would no longer find it remunerative to continue with milk production.
Under these circumstances proposed FTA with European Union may not only affect the future development of dairy sector, rather it may doom the dairy sector at large.
No doubt dairy sector today is a major source of food security, employment and income enhancement of the farmer. At the same time dairy sector has become the symbol of upliftment of the women folk. But it is unfortunate that even today the government does not consider dairy as part of agriculture.
It is notable that dairy sector does not get priority treatment in bank loans. Whereas agricultural incomes are exempted from income tax, dairy income attract income tax has applicable on non agricultural incomes. Inclusion of dairy sector in MNREGA may go a long way in the development of dairy sector; however the government does not seem to be in any mood to go in this direction.
Today while the government is talking about food security, ironically, a major source of food security is being sent to the danger zone. Today it is imperative to ensure the feed security for the milch cattle along with food security for humans to ensure growth in milk production. If we include milk also in mid-day meal programme, it may help increasing the production of milk in the local areas along with provision of nutritional meal to the children.
It is imperative that the government takes utmost care in reaching at international and regional trade agreements and does not make any commitment to open dairy imports, which may doom the dairy sector. Rather there is need to draw short, medium and long term plans for healthy growth of the dairy sector.