Middlemen milk profits of J&K dairy farmers

White revolution is becoming popular and many dairy framers have prospered across the country. One can come across thousands of successful farmers in the country who have been hugely benefited from the dairy farming.

But the scenario is virtually the opposite in Kashmir.

While demand for dairy produce the world over is growing, the price of milk in Kashmir has dropped and it is now cheaper than bottled water. It is intriguing that while one litre of bottled water sells at Rs 20, cow milk fetches just Rs 18 to farmers in Kashmir villages. This has forced hundreds of farmers in the countryside to sell their cows and take up some other jobs. 

Ghulam Mohammad Bhat of Pulwama district in south Kashmir is one such farmer who has sold his two cows immediately after his joint family of five members separated. “Selling milk to a middleman yields nothing to the farmer. While we sell milk to middleman at Rs 18 per litre, the same fetches anywhe­re between Rs 32 and 35 in Srinagar and other towns,” Bhat told Deccan Herald.  

After selling his cows, he became a middleman and started purchasing milk from his neighbours. “I purchase milk from my neighbours at cheaper rate and sell it at a good price in the town,” he added. 

Abdul Hamid Dar, a farmer from north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, believes the dairy farming in Kashmir in has diminishing returns. “Why would someone invest in a dairy farm where investments are high and returns are low? People who invest in mineral water plants earn much more than dairy farmers. Producing a litre of bottled water won’t cost the plant owner more than Rs 2 but it fetches Rs 20 in market,” he said. At the same time, for getting one litre of milk, a lot of hard work and investment are required. 

Dar said that in his area several small farmers have already sold their cows. “They sell grass produced in their orcha­rds which fetches them good money. They purchase milk from the same money which they get from selling grass and without doing much hard work they earn better,” he added. 

Another farmer from south Kashmir’s Shopian says: “We fail to understand how a water bottle is sold at Rs 20 in market and our pure milk per litre is bought only at Rs 18.”“Till 2005, our area was called the Anand district of Kashmir, which means largest producer of milk. But after 2005 when Shopian was carved out as a new district from Pulwama, the farmers had to suffer a lot due to the government apathy and lack of a proper system to encourage milk producers,” he said. 

Anand in Gujarat is very famous for its Amul dairy and milk revolution. The milk producers blame the government for its indifference towards them, particularly in marketing produce and providing them other support. The production cost of one litre of milk for a far­m­er is much higher than what he gets because of high input costs. It is estimated that the farmer has to spend nearly Rs 22 to get one litre milk from a cross-bred cow.  “The state produces more than 20 lakh tonnes of milk annually, but most of it is bought by middlemen who procure at rates cheaper than bottled water and sell it at a premium that too after resorting to malpractices ,” a senior veterinarian told Deccan Herald.  

The producer and the consumer, he says, remain perennially at a disadvantage under the circumstances. “The state has witnessed a slow but steady white revolution. What is lacking is dependable backward and forward linkages. This is true for other agricultural produce as well. This is why more and more rural youth are getting disillusioned and are found hankering after white collar jobs,” he added. 

The dairy farmers believe that if the government fails to provide any long-term support to them or implement new market policies, villagers in Kashmir will stop rearing milk-producing animals. 

Sharing his experiences, Abdul Qadir, a septuagenarian farmer from Pulwama, says that earlier the government failed to use pastures and barren land for animal rearing which resulted in their encroachment by some greedy elements. 

He says dairy farming could have generated jobs for thousands of unemployed youth in Kashmir. “But the lack of government support has marred this industry. Government’s priority is to promote a few big milk-processing companies who sell poison instead of milk,” Qadir regretted.

“As milk prices have dropped, several farmers had to borrow against the equity of their cows and farms. As incomes have fallen, many farming families are unable to repay the loans,” he rued.  

The solution, according to Qadir, to make milk production profitable for farmers is to establish cooperatives to supply it directly to consumers. “It is easy to produ­ce milk in the Kashmir’s green, wet and pleasant land, but very difficult to find market. Until dairy farmers overcome this dilemma, many more will continue to go out of business,” he added. 

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