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POSTED AT 11:17 PM 23-02-2017

Sri Lankans should drink more milk!

Production, import and consumption patterns of milk in Sri Lanka discussed at expert panel

Image courtesy: Torah Musings

A panel discussion on the dairy industry was organized on 22nd February, with the participation of leading stakeholders in the government, industry and corporate sectors.

The local patterns of milk production, import and consumption were discussed by the panelists, with special emphasis on how the local dairy industry can be improved, to meet the demand in the market.

‘Taxing is not the solution’

Opening the discussion, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Harsha de Silva, drew the panel’s attention to the figures of the local milk industry. ‘While Sri Lankans consume around 1000 million litres of milk every year, only 375 million litres of that is locally produced,’ he said.

‘But Sri Lankans on average consume only half a glass of milk per day, whereas the World Health Organization requirement is two glasses. Considering this, we locally produce only a tiny fraction of what we require to meet the global standards of milk consumption,’ Dr De Silva added.

According to him, however, Sri Lanka is yet to figure out the right way to incentivise local milk production. While alleging that the policy of successive governments has always been to impose high taxes on milk imports, it has only resulted in value added milk food items such as cheese and butter attracting high taxes, thereby unduly making them luxury goods in the market.

The Deputy Minister maintained that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent tour of New Zealand, of which he also was part of the official delegation, was aimed at finding effective alternatives to this issue.

Dr Harsha de Silva (Image courtesy: The Nation)

Small scale entrepreneurship vs large firms

According to Prof. H. W. Cyril, Chairman of the National Livestock Development Board (NLDB), promoting milk production among small entrepreneurs will have little to no effect in solving the huge milk production deficit that Sri Lanka is currently in. He said that distributing high-yielding imported cows among small-scale farmers will not have the desired effects as these farmers have neither the knowledge, nor the resources, to productively utilize high-yielding cows for the production of milk.

‘Therefore, we need to encourage and incentivise large scale producers, and bring more big firms here,’ he argued.

Prof H W Cyril (Image courtesy: NLDB)

Dr Amarasiri Chandrasoma, Former Provincial Director of the Department of Animal Production and Health, however, disagreed. He opined that training small scale farmers in the areas of feeding, breeding, management and animal health, with the help of the experts from large firms, is the best way to increase the local production of milk in Sri Lanka.

Founder and Director of the Sarvodaya Movement, Dr A. T. Ariyaratne, also shared the same sentiment. Stating that the Sarvodaya Movement has successfully carried out cooperative projects in rural areas, the model of which can be easily utilised for cooperative milk farming, Dr Ariyaratne opined that attracting youth to the profession is not an impossible task, hard as it may be.

He went on to stress the importance of converting this stakeholder discussion into a national movement that includes the grassroots.

Dr A T Ariyaratne (Image courtesy: Trans4m)

Dairy as an indispensable good

Fonterra’s Manager for Sri Lanka and India, Sunil Sethi, wrapped up the panel exchange by recapping the importance of strengthening and expanding the dairy market in Sri Lanka. According to Sethi, a potential growth in the local dairy industry would not only increase the nutritional levels of the population, but also would improve the living standards of the families that primarily depend on milk farming. Moreover, advancements made in the milk industry would also lead towards overall economic growth of Sri Lanka.

Lamenting the rhetoric that curbing milk imports would incentivise local producers, Sethi also pointed out that the imports cannot be stopped particularly when the local demand for milk grows by 13% each year.

He went on to elaborate several projects initiated by the Fonterra Group in Sri Lanka, to provide small scale farmers with the knowledge and training required to reap the maximum benefits from the cows in their possession. Improving the quality of their produce will ultimately benefit the Fonterra Group and the local milk industry as a whole, Sathi added.

Sunil Sathi (Image courtesy: Daily News)