Milking the organic way

Milking the organic way

Akshayakalpa, an organic dairy in Tiptur is tapping into the current organic craze and has transformed farmers into entrepreneurs. Halli Suresh writes about the indigenous technologies used here to better the lives of rural communities. 

 “Four years ago, I never imagined that dairy would become my mainstay. Now it has changed our lives and helped us to realise our dream of a better living, without
having to move away from the village,” says a delighted Vasanth Kumar of Bommalapura in Tiptur. He is a farmer- member of Akshayakalpa, the first  organic dairy initiative in Karnataka, which aims at producing organic milk, in collaboration with farmers.

At a time when farmers find it hard to manage a dairy, Akshayakalpa is attracting them towards it. The initiative is working with village youth, particularly farmers, to set up sustainable and profitable rural enterprises.

In tune with the increased popularity of organic food, Akshayakalpa initiated organic milk production in Tiptur in 2010. In the beginning, it worked towards setting up of dairy clusters in the surrounding villages. Dr. GNS Reddy, a veterinarian and a rural development expert, who conceptualised and launched the initiative, firmly believes that agriculture can sustain as a profession, if farmers become entrepreneurs.

The model’s objective is to produce safe and healthy milk. The effort gives equal importance to the well-being of cattle, farmers, consumers and environment. Interested farmers, those who own five acres of land or a group of farmers who can collectively access five acres, can participate in the activity. They given financial support through bank linkages for an initial investment. Each dairy unit incurs an expenditure of Rs 20 lakh.

A full-fledged unit includes 25 cows, advanced cowshed, automatic milking system, bio-gas plant, generator, bio-digester, fodder chopper, chilling unit, sprinkler set and fencing. In most of the farms, this system is developed gradually. 

Scientific design of the shed ensuresefficient management, requiring only two persons to manage the dairy besides providing protection and ventilation. Different varieties of fodder are grown in the same field. Maize, sunhemp, pulses and azolla are commonly grown in these farms.

Akshayakalpa recommends farmers to opt for cross-bred cows. Cattle is not  restrained in any manner. Cow comfort is given top priority. They have access to food and water throughout the day. They are also provided with mats to avoid damage to hoofs and knee joints. Every cow is monitored electronically for its health status, movement and milk production. Akshayakalpa has appointed veterinary doctors to supervise these dairy farms. True to the philosophy of organic farming, cows are generally not administered with any antibiotics and hormones. Even when antibiotics are used for life saving purposes, milk is not collected for consumption till the withdrawal period of the medicine.

Indigenous technology

Innovative and state-of-the-art technologies for automation of dairy farms are
employed. The entire process of milking, from cow to consumers, is completely mechanised. Milk is chilled immediately after milking, thus reducing chances of bacterial growth. This also ensures that the milk retains most of the proteins.

Right now, farmers in a radius of 25 kilometres around Tiptur, are part of the initiative. Ninety dairy units are functioning and another 200 units are at different stages of functioning. Bengaluru is the major market, where milk is sold on a daily basis, apart from Mysuru and Tumakuru.

“This initiative has satisfied both farmers and consumers. Consumers are buying our products, not just because the milk is healthy, but also because farmers are given their fair share,” says Shashikumar, an IT-professional-turned-entrepreneur, who is now the COO of Akshayakalpa. Eight other engineers bring in their experience in the field of software and automation technology to make Akshayakalpa efficient and innovative. Stellapps Technologies, founded by them provides technological solutions to food and agro-industries.

“Thanks to the indigenous technology support provided by the company, two of us can manage the farm without depending on labour. I earn Rs 30,000 to 35,000 every month, after deducting all the expenses including repayment of the loan,” says Vasanth Kumar.
Cowdung and urine are diverted from the cowshed to the bio-gas unit. The methane gas generated from the plant is used to operate a generator. The power produced from the generator is sufficient to operate irrigation pumpsets and other machinery in the farm.

This eventually makes the entire unit least dependent on the power grid. The bio-gas slurry is diverted to a bio-digester, which is then filtered and pumped to the entire farm through a sprinkler system.

Good response

At the moment, Akshayakalpa is not able to meet the consumer demand, which is steadily increasing. With the existing system, it is able to produce only 4,000 litres per day. Small and medium farmers are keen to join the initiative and approach the office voluntarily. But providing financial support through bank linkages is becoming difficult.
“Availing money required for the entire set up is not easy. It takes time to get the finance step by step,” says Shashikumar.

Nataraj of Huralihalli village, who reared three cows in 2010 is the first farmer member of the initiative. “Now we have 20 heads of cattle. Akshayakalpa helped us at every stage from creating awareness to maintaining the cattle and marketing. We have repaid major part of the loan,” exclaims Nataraj’s elder brother Jagadeesh, who jointly runs the dairy. Now they sell 200 litres of milk everyday.

Procurement and processing industries  set up in these villages help add value to the milk at the source of production. This  creates substantial employment opportunities to rural youth, while ensuring right value to the farmers. Byproducts like paneer (cottage cheese), ghee (clarified butter), curds, flavoured milk and cheese are also produced based on the demand.

So far, the beginning seems to be encouraging for this collaborative effort that aims at reversing urban migration by enhancing livelihood opportunities in the villages.

(Translated by AP)

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