Wednesday April 24, 2024

Dairy dilemmas

By Dr Talat Naseer Pasha
January 24, 2019

In 2016, the Punjab government announced a ban on the sale of all loose milk in the province after five years. The Punjab Food Authority (PFA) believes that pasteurising and packing milk at the source is the only solution to eradicate the practice of milk adulteration. This law will be a game-changer as all research shows that loose milk is a source of chemical adulteration.

Non-bacterial contaminations are deliberately added to milk to increase its quantity. These steps are putting the lives of consumers at risk. Currently, our dairy industry is dominated by unpackaged milk and informal markets, and is thus open to contamination. Between 90 percent and 95 percent of the population consume loose milk, ie unpackaged and non-pasteurised milk. Milk adulteration is widely practised by milk traders across Pakistan and is a major cause of malnourishment and stunting among infants.

In 2017, Pakistan was among the three countries in the world considered to be the largest dairy-producing countries. According to the IMF, our economy is the 25th largest in the world in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). Pakistan has a population of over 200 million, making it the sixth most populous country in the world.

Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, contributing 19.6 percent to GDP, employing approximately 42.2 percent of the workforce, and providing raw materials to various value-added industries. Livestock plays a vital role in the economy and accounts for 11.4 percent of GDP. Within the livestock sector, milk is the most important commodity. And yet, the dairy industry is not performing even close to its full potential.

Our dairy industry has considerable potential and even a small amount of attention from the government could make a difference to our dairy exports and GDP. Estimated annual milk production in 2017 was approximately 56 million tonnes, making Pakistan the third largest milk-producer in the world.

Dairy farming is a source of livelihood, nutrition and rural entrepreneurship. With regard to global dairy consumption and production, Asia has been a significant player. Over the past decade, the increase in aggregate consumption in Asia has surpassed the global annual average. As per the Department of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, it has been estimated that the demand for milk and dairy products will increase to about 320 million tonnes by 2021. With the help of reforms in the dairy sector, the government can avail these new opportunities by fulfilling the rising demand that will impact the economy positively.

All statistics eventually show that these market conditions offer an excellent opportunity for Pakistan to further consolidate this particular sector by investing in measures to improve quality, productivity and market access. In Pakistan, dairy farming is largely practised by the private sector in both rural and urban areas. Around 80 percent of milk is produced by rural dairy farmers. Of this, 60 percent is consumed at the source and the remaining 40 percent is marketed to other areas. Of this 40 percent, only 10 percent is supplied to dairy processing firms. Therefore, it is essential that the government focuses on the farm-to-market supply chain and provide incentives for this.

Except for large milk-processing companies, the rest of the population purchase milk on the basis of quantity rather than quality. Bearing in mind the high perishability of milk, the marketing infrastructure has to be improved with supplying “chillers” for milk storage at the source. Due to the absence of a proper transport system, most of the milk-producing areas are difficult to reach. Villages that are situated in remote areas are, therefore, deprived of availing milk markets. There is no availability of cold-chain networks and the milk is stored in non-food grade containers.

Most small-scale dairy farmers are financially insecure; have untrained manpower; and lack proper management skills. All these factors collectively result in inefficient marketing systems.

Along with the absence of infrastructure facilities, Pakistan’s dairy sector is facing other challenges, such as the lack of dairy-related education and extensive informal markets. Furthermore, lack of quality checks is the most neglected aspect of the dairy system. In other words, informal markets lack regular quality tests and food regulatory bodies.

Owing to the lack of technological advancements in our dairy sector, approximately 95 percent of the milk is marketed raw via informal market chains. And the remaining five percent is marketed through the processing dairy processing industry. Based on the current circumstances, the provision of healthy and hygienic milk to consumers is a massive challenge for policymakers. So, if traditional procedures of procuring milk are no longer clean and modern industrial methods are suspect, where should we go to have a healthy glass of milk?

According to the US Food and Drug Administration Agency, packaged milk is safe to consume because the procedures used by packaged milk producers ensure that bacteria are killed during boiling and processing. Most packaged milk companies have a comprehensive testing process. In addition, all milk is tested at the point of collection.

More than 45 percent of children are malnourished in Pakistan. In comparison with countries like Spain, France, Germany and Sweden – which have organised a milk value chain and where between 95 percent and 98 percent of the population consumes packaged milk – issues like malnutrition are non-existent and life expectancy rates are much higher than Pakistan.

Our dairy industry can learn something from India, where large-scale cooperatives were set up by the government in the 1970s and the 1980s.This was a great leap forward as these co-ops played a role in promoting rural development and improving the living standards of the poor.

Although large corporations have invested in UHT processing, the government must reform the current dairy sector in order to facilitate small-scale farmers. Investments must be made to introduce inputs like veterinary medicine, farmer’s education and proper cattle breeding initiatives as small-scale dairy farmers play a crucial role in supporting rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation in Pakistan.

The government should focus on linking small dairy farmers to set up cooperatives and helping to create supply chains to formal markets. In addition to enforcing food safety laws, the media must be effectively used to discourage farmers from using non-recommended containers to handle milk, promote hygienic standards, and facilitate consumer education.

The writer is the vice-chancellor of the University of Veterinary and Animal

Sciences (UVAS).