Assam eyes milk on rails- Co-operative plans to check shortage, curb costs
Guwahati, June 7: West Assam Milk Producers’ Co-operative Union Ltd (Wamul), the creators of the milk brand, Purabi, has drawn up a plan to bring milk on trains from outside the state to economise its costs.
Wamul is getting 3,500-4,000 litres on an average from Bihar and West Bengal through trucks.
“Though there are no problems in sight right now, contingency plans have to be chalked up as we have to think of being economical and step up supply,” M. Thakur, the managing director of Wamul, told The Telegraph.
The official said communication had already been made with milk co-operatives in South India to get concentrated milk — which is basically cow milk.
“We have to talk to the railways to make arrangements to set up railway sidings, which will take some time,” the official said.
One rail milk container carries 40,000 litres of milk.
“Taking concentrated milk helps us because we can increase the quantity three times after processing it, which will help save our transportation costs,” Thakur said.
In fact, Gujarat’s second largest dairy — Dudhsagar Dairy of Mehsana — is all set to flag off a dedicated train to transport milk to the country’s biggest milk market, Delhi, on a daily basis by the end of this year.
There is severe shortage of milk in the state as is evident with defence authorities always asking Wamul to provide them milk.
Wamul is now supplying milk to six places in Assam barring defence supplies. The six places are Guwahati, Nagaon, Jorhat, Nalbari, Rangia and Sonapur.
The shortfall is staggering. In 2009-10, the requirement of milk in Assam was 2,286 million litres while the supply was 828 million litres, leaving a shortfall of 1,457 million litres.
Despite having a sizeable number (approximately 85 lakh) of cattle, the per capita availability of milk is only 87ml/head/day against 210 ml/head/day as recommended by World Health Organisation. This is because of the fact that the local cattle of Assam are nondescript type and productivity on an average is 180 litres/cow. In contrast to this, the average yield of the indigenous breed of the country varies from 1,500 litres to 3,000 litres.
Amul has a big market presence in the state, as is evident from the huge demand of milk powder by consumers.
“We have to boost up local production. Otherwise, private players from outside will take the market,” an official in dairy development said.
Experts say the low productivity of local cows calls for cross-breeding but the scale has not been of that extent as wanted and there should be more emphasis on boosting animal nutrition. The crossbred variety is only 5 per cent of Assam’s cattle population.
“The emphasis should be on going to the interior areas where there is a big scope,” a dairy department official said.
There are problems still in the milk sector and in fact the Bajali Co-ordination Committee of the Dairy Co-operative Society had reported that it had to dump huge quantities of milk owing to lack of bulk cooler machines as there was no plan to store the milk.
Thakur said Wamul would soon be establishing bulk milk coolers in two places of Kamrup district because it not only helps in increasing the shelf life of milk but also provides a systematic way of milk procurement.
According to the latest Draft Codex International Code of Hygienic Practice for Milk and Milk Products from Codex Secretariat, if the milk is not processed within two hours of milking, it is required to be cooled to a temperature below 7 degrees Celsius. Therefore, the dairies that have to market their milk and milk products in the international market will have to comply with the code and the cold chain will become a must for them.
The initial capital investment will pay back in the long run, as the system will eliminate the use of milk cans, help prevent milk from turning sour, reduce transportation costs and ensure better returns. Milk can be stored for 24 hours in the bulk milk coolers with a 2,000-litre capacity.
The problems in the milk sector in the state are immense, as the created infrastructure is either largely defunct or grossly under-utilised. The functional plants are operating at a very low level of their installed capacity, have limited product profile, substantial handling losses, low productivity of capital and labour and huge operational losses.
The poor performance of the plants has been attributed to the establishment of milk processing units without appropriate assessment of output demand and input supply and determination of economic viability.