During this COVID-19 pandemic one of the worst among sufferers are about 11 Lakh Milk producers family of Odisha who have been facing with crisis of milk sale since March 2020 and continued uncertainty. Even in normal time also, diary sector in the state have been struggling with the crisis of distress sale with continued problem in supply side arrangement in spite of demand for animal protein by vegetarian population in emerging urban areas. This ongoing pandemic has been an additional burden over continued crisis of small milk producers in rural areas. About 75 percent of these producers are family based traditional milk farmers for generations having small size dairy farm .They are mostly having marginal land holding while solely dependent on production and marketing of milk and milk products as main sources of livelihood. Though these families are being identified as one of the major socially and educationally backward classes of the state to get benefits of reservation but they have not much representation in higher education, organized sector jobs, business ,trade ,services and other areas of socio-political and socio-economic activities. This has been increasingly difficult for them to maintain the cattle population with increasing price of animal feeds, sinking space of grazing land, and other related regular expenses. The continuous outbreak of natural calamities, cyclone, FANI, have been damaged cattle sheds in many places of the coastal areas. Very shocking reports are being appeared in vernacular media on their distress plight and in few places such farmers have closed their dairy farm to avoid further difficulties in the absence of compensatory help either by Govt. or private marketing companies and state owned cooperatives.
It is reported that India being self –sufficient in milk production with large presence of small producers, about 46 percent of the milk produced is being mostly consumed by producer and rest is being sold out to organized and unorganized market. But this consumption ratio by producer in state of Odisha is lower and the ratio of sale in unorganized market is higher and dependable in the absence of Govt. owned institutions and milk producer cooperatives and large private companies. Out of more than 60 lakh liters produced per day only 1/6th of the production are being procured by the organized sector companies in the state that includes both Govt. and private. Along with OMFED there are number of private companies such as milk-moo, Sudha diary, Heritage diary, Pragati ,Milk Mantra, and Odisha diary and more than 50 no of companies dealing with dairy products in different parts of the state are in the business but these organized sector have very less market share though this sector has paid a relatively better price than unorganized sector and also having limited risk of adulteration where as a major chunk of the milk sale has been in unorganized sector open market which involves the local producers mostly traditional milkman. The marketing of both the sectors have been seriously affected due to COVID-19 lockdown and shut down and the close down of market areas ,street sale , specially tea stalls ,hotels , and eateries serving sweets and other milk products such as cheese, curd, white butter. Along with this these are also thousands of homemade business which are almost closed.
In the liberalization phase already there has been an attempt of rapid privatization of agriculture marketing and especially in the diary sector the multinational companies such as Nestle, Lactalis, Donone, and Fonterra diary have entered the market which will change the diary market of India and impacting over the small producers. On the other side the Govt. has been encouraging small producers with subsidized loan for establishment of small diary, vermin compost with cattle unit, to purchase milking machine , dairy processing equipment , diary product transportation facilities , cold storage facility for milk and milk products , and establishing private veterinary clinic and diary marketing outlets and parlors. Many states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra have strong cooperative movement of the diary sector and backward states such as Odisha have been lag behind in many respect without any sign of improvement.
In the ongoing situation considering the ground reality of dairy farmers ,it is being argued that any attempt to improve the economic condition of the milk farmers will increase the income and generate meaningful productive employment in rural areas . Though Odisha has one of the lowest milk price in comparison to other states, the state Govt. has not taken much initiative to improve the condition of milk farmers similar to the steps taken by other states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, UP and Bihar in terms of increasing the production, better marketing facilities and social securities for people engaged in production along with a fair price for milk. These states have also developed processing units to convert milk into milk powder and butter to manage the surplus milk but such facilities are not available in Odisha. Even many of advisories issues by Department of animal husbandry, Govt of India are not being followed by the state to increase the sale of milk by encouraging procurement for Govt. run schemes and programme as protection to milk farmers as well as to improve the quality of diets served to women and children of poor communities. It has been directed to states to include milk in the Anganwadi and Mid-day meal schemes in schools and also in public distribution system to boost the nutritional needs of the poor children and women in rural areas as Odisha continues with malnutrition issues of women and children and other rural poor. The state Govt. of Bihar and Rajasthan has issues order to supply milk powder in Agwanwadi centers under ICDS. Department of commerce has provided incentive of 10 percent over export of all milk and milk products and the Govt. of Gujarat and Maharashtra also have introduced subside over skim milk powder while no such initiative have not been taken by Govt. of Odisha .
Rabi Behera , Chairman, Odisha Milk Farmers Association, one of the leading voice of milk framers of the state who have been fought street protest with emptied milk containers on road and arranged delegations to concern departments on number of accusations for their rights , told that there has been no increase in milk price during last five years and it has only very marginally increased last year which is also very less, and while other farmers are enjoying MSP but the milk farmers have been not being treated as farmers to avail similar benefits. In order to overcome the ongoing crisis the state Govt. must declared compensation to all milk producers along with supply of subsidize cattle feed and make arrangements for regular sale of milk produced by the distress milk producer families. It is also desirable that the organized sector must increase its procurement specially the state cooperative like its counterpart in Maharashtra and Gujarat by following COVID-19 guide line from supply chain to consumer end, milk collection process to home delivery, with all sanitary measures required under the guideline, to change the distress condition of the milk farmers.
Manas Jena is an activist and writer from Odisha email –firstname.lastname@example.org