Massive drive to increase local fresh milk production | Sunday Observer

Massive drive to increase local fresh milk production

The Ministry of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development and Rural Economic Affairs has, together with Milco (Pvt) Limited, the National Livestock Development Board (NLDB) and the Department of Animal Production and Health , intensified a drive to raise local milk productivity .

The aim is to gradually reduce the staggering amount of Rs.4 billion drained out of the country every year on the import of powdered milk. The local dairy industry producing only about 42 percent of the local consumption, there is an acute need to raise local milk production.

As a significant aspect of the program, the Ministry is now focusing on increasing the import of the high-yielding Jersey and Friesian cross-breeds from New Zealand and Australia and issuing them to local farmers at attractive prices, monitoring their maintenance on a daily basis and providing the necessary expertise and guidance to the farmers.

Director of Livestock Development Planning of the Rural Economic Affairs Ministry Dr.Niroshan Gamage explaining the salient features of the program told the Sunday Observer that the cost of import of the animals and their transport from the Port to the farms was borne by the Ministry and only the purchase price of the animals was recovered from the farmers.

The purchase price of an animal is about Rs.200,000 which, although not a subsidized formula, is an advantageous price for the farmers.

He said, milk production is now on an upward trend. “We have one million cows and 300,000 buffaloes which produced 384 million liters of milk last year but that is not sufficient for local consumption. In order to meet the deficit we import powdered milk from foreign countries, for which we spend a staggering Rs. 40 billion per annum.

Such a huge amount is drained out of the country every year and, therefore, this situation needs to be averted. The huge amount going out of the country has to be reduced gradually with the objective of achieving self-sufficiency in milk production so that the import of powdered milk could be completely discontinued”, he said.

Gamage said: “The government decided, as a step towards that objective, to initiate measures to boost the dairy industry and focus on importing animals from overseas as Sri Lanka does not have good quality animals. We only have native cattle, cross-breed animals – European and Indian crosses – and many other local varieties whose production of milk is not up to desired levels. We need animals that produce a higher quantity of milk.

“The government decided to import animals and, at that time - in 2011 - initiated a project in collaboration with the Government of Australia .

They came forward to provide us financial assistance and expertise to improve the quality of the animals. At that time we lacked experience in rearing temperate country animals in Sri Lanka’s dry areas.

The development project links Australia’s agricultural resources and expertise with the Sri Lankan Government’s desire to increase the nation’s fresh milk supply, reduce reliance on powdered milk imports and, ultimately, become a self-sufficient dairy producer.

“So we decided to have trial breeding at the Menikpalama farm in Bopathalawa and at the Ridiyagama farm in the South which belong to the National Livestock Development Board (NLDB). In several tropical countries, including in the Middle East, they have been successful in rearing animals from temperate countries under controlled environment conditions. We imported 4,500 animals and 2,000 of them were kept in the Menikpalama farm and the remaining 2,500 in the Ridiyagama farm.

The temperature is high in Ridiyagama but we wanted to have a trial, and found it was successful in Ridiyagama. It was an inspiration and the Government wanted to have commercial farms in Sri Lanka with the participation of the private sector and under this the government imported 20,000 animals.

“In May last year we imported 2,000 animals and distributed them among 21 farms. In December ,we imported another 3,000 animals and distributed them among farmers in Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Matale, Badulla and

Kurunegala. Now we are monitoring their performance on a daily basis and our observations have revealed that their performance is as good as in their countries of origin.

They have adapted themselves well to the local temperature and environment and the yield of milk is up to anticipated levels. However, feeding is not up to standard. Farmers mostly are using ‘gini’ grass found on road side, ravines, tank banks and uncultivated public and private lands. We want farmers to grow the grass CO3,CO4, maize and sugar grass and are taking measures to initiate them to use these varieties of grass and fodder.

“We have advised farmers to grow their own grass, and they are gradually shifting to that. Milk-production of the country is now on the upward trend making rapid progress consequent to the import of high quality animals and other Ministry-induced measures.

The Provincial Ministry of Livestock Development and Health also provides technical support, planting material as fodder, veterinary and other technical know-how as well as support for improving the industry.

“Farmers selected for the issue of the animals have to deposit, beforehand, the full amount in favour of the Ministry.

Such farmers are selected on the basis of their qualifications as recommended by the area’s veterinary surgeon and our area representative. They include the standard of the farm, maintenance, environmental conditions and their capability to maintain the animals in good condition. After the issue, the Ministry officials and the provincial authorities periodically visit the farms to evaluate the condition of the animals.

We ensure that there are blowers or fans inside the sheds which draw out the vapour and cool the animals and also other environmental conditions to comfort the animals. The Ministry monitors the conditions in the sheds on a daily basis and we have a web-based monitoring system,” Gamage concluded.

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