Wamul to stop milk imports from 2013
Wamul’s mantra of helping others to help themselves has worked wonders — the co-operative behind the Purabi brand, which is a household name in Assam, will stop bringing milk from outside from next year because it has plenty at home.
“Our local procurement is increasing and we no longer need to bring milk from outside,” M. Thakur, managing director of West Assam Milk Producers’ Co-operative Union Ltd, told The Telegraph. At present, the cooperative procures around 10,000 litres of milk per day from Bihar and West Bengal, depending on the demand.
The success story has trudged a rough road. Wamul, which came into existence in 1976 as a Union of Milk Producers’ Co-operatives of Nagaon, Morigaon, Goalpara, Nalbari and Kamrup districts of Assam, has had a tough time since inception. At times, the employees were even compelled to sacrifice their wages and salaries for months.
When the cooperative started its operations as Wamul in 1981-82, its problems were immense — the infrastructure was either largely defunct or grossly underutilised, the functional plants were operating at a very low level of their installed capacity, it had a limited product profile, there were huge operational losses, and capital and labour productivity was low. The poor performance was largely attributed to the establishment of milk processing units without appropriate assessment of demand, supply and economic viability.
However, the situation has changed completely in the past few years and the cooperative is back on the rails, Thakur said.
A series of steps have been taken to restore the co-operative’s health, primary among them being a five-year tripartite agreement between the state government, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and Wamul in 2008. Both the state government and the board agreed to run Wamul in accordance with sound business principles and on commercial lines.
The idea was to improve the procurement, processing, manufacturing and marketing of milk for better capacity utilisation of the infrastructure created. For better procurement, Wamul established direct link with milk producers — earlier it used to procure milk from societies — and set up milk producers’ institutions. It offered better prices to the producers and opened bank accounts for them so that they could get payments on time, leading to greater trust. Thakur said the local procurement of milk was 18,000 litres a day now compared to 300 litres a day in 2008.
Wamul’s milk plants process 40,000 litres per day and the amount is expected to touch 50,000 litres by March next year.
“Production is of no use if there is no market. We created market for the producers who are now willing to provide milk to us. Our milk now reaches places like Jorhat and Sivasagar and we still get queries from them,” he added. Wamul also supplies milk to army units in Basistha and Missamari.
He said they also linked salary to performance to encourage employees to become more productive.
Thakur said the people were the same but they had changed the situation in their favour. “They did not have any exposure earlier. We trained them and even sent them to Anand. The result is there for everyone to see.”
Wamul has now started trial runs for lassi. It has also set up bulk milk coolers in a number of places to increase the shelf life of milk and establish a systematic way of milk procurement.
The cooperative is now focusing on Nagaon and Morigaon districts for which it has got a Rs 6 crore assistance from the Centre. It plans to set up bulk milk coolers, a packaging unit and cold storages in the districts.
“One more year is left for the MoU to expire and after that it will be up to the government whether it wants the NDDB to stay or not. We have done our best to run it commercially,” Thakur, who had been sent on deputation to Wamul from the NDDB, said.
The state milk sector has come a long way but a lot still needs to be done. Despite having a sizeable number of cattle (approximately 85 lakh), the per capita availability of milk is only 87ml per head per day in the state against the 210 ml/head/day recommended by World Health Organisation. This is because the local cattle are of nondescript type and the productivity is, on an average, 180 litres per cow. In contrast, the average yield of the indigenous breed of cattle in the country varies from 1,500 litres to 3,000 litres.