Thursday November 30, 2023

Improving dairy

April 27, 2021

Why is Pakistan not utilizing one of its most significant produce, available in abundant quantity, to increase its exports? Pakistan is the fourth largest milk producer globally, and the dairy industry can phenomenally contribute and can prove to be 'white gold' for the country. But unfortunately, the sector is currently stressed due to several reasons.

The dairy sector is a vital asset for Pakistan, and it attributes 11 percent of the country's GDP. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan (2019-2020), milk's annual production is nearly 60 billion litres. If its export potential is recognized and determined, it can change the local dairy sector and play a significant role in the country's economy.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, during the past years, global milk production has increased at the international level by more than 59 percent – from 530 million tons in 1998 to 843 million tons in 2018. This increase in milk consumption at the global level can be used as an opportunity for milk-producing countries like Pakistan to enhance their exports and make foreign exchange by providing milk and dairy products to deficient and low milk-producing countries. According to the Pakistan Dairy Association, through the facilitation of the government, Pakistan can make around 30 billion dollars by enhancing exports of only milk and dairy products.

However, despite all these facts and figures, Pakistan sees slower growth in the packaged milk and dairy industry than other milk-producing countries. The size of the sector is still less than 10 percent. Different factors contribute to this challenge including the low yield of milk production causing high farm gate prices.

The main issues start at the doorstep. One of the primary reasons is the ignorance and less knowledge of farmers regarding the methods and techniques needed to take better care of the animals. Unavailability of proper and nutritious feed to the animals because of shortage of fodder round the year leads to low milk quality.

The occurrence of disease in cattle, due to low coverage of vaccination, is a key factor in producing low-quality milk. For example, Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) among cattle remains the biggest challenge for the country. It is a severe, highly prevalent viral disease among cattle. The disease reasons significant production losses, and even if the cattle recover from the illness, it leaves them feeble and weak. As a treatment, no vaccination for the disease is produced locally; instead it is imported and, consequently, not in a timely manner. To avoid the situation, the government should take immediate measures to address the challenge by introducing free FMD Zones, which is also the hindering factor to our milk exports.

A compromised living situation with a lack of clean drinking water adds health risks to the animals. Above all, farmers are not educated enough to give timely vaccinations or provide a healthy environment against diseases. At the local level, farmers should be trained to adopt safe measures to keep their animals healthy. They should be facilitated to adopt modern farming methods and be equipped with new technology, including use of scientific practices in mulching, adequate availability of fodder in all seasons, timely availability of vaccines.

Another key barrier is untreated loose milk. Over 90 percent of the production in Pakistan is available as loose milk. Due to a lack of suitable cold chains, it becomes contaminated and unhealthy, and is hence wasted. As milk is a highly perishable item, packaged milk with all nutrition guideless and other mandatory SOPs has been adopted as the best remedy globally to avoid wastage. Packaged milk brings traceability, showing the quality of the product, its origin or the course of its development.

Moreover, in addition to safety, packaging determines the longevity of the milk – hence avoiding its wastage. If Pakistan can deliver safe and healthy milk in packaged form, it will positively impact improved local consumption of milk and its export. The government needs to improve taxation on packaged milk by moving back to zero-rating of sales tax, considering the fact that it can result in immense benefits for the dairy farming and milk processing sectors.

It is depressing to know that a country yielding tons of milk is wasting its vital resource. The government needs to overcome the issue of adulteration, improve milk quality and avail the missed opportunity of using milk and dairy products as an export entity, the primary focus of the government.

The writer is a public health consultant.