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Camel’s Milk, Cow’s Milk…Lanka Goes the Milky Way!

by Namini Wijedasa

Not long ago, one of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s little geniuses suggested that Sri Lanka imports camels from the Middle East so that Sri Lankans could drink camel milk.

President Rajapaksa, you see, has a lot of veritable geniuses in his government to whom he delegates important work. Reports that only a few brothers get the good jobs are unequivocally false. These are the delirious ravings of envious UNP MPs who have no jobs.

They have only Ranil Wickremesinghe–and that hardly helps. But we digress back to camel milk.

Camels produce a lot of milk, enthused H.R. Mithrapala, Deputy Minister of Livestock Development. Cattle give only a little milk and milk production is down in the country. But he fretted that camels were a tad expensive and took up more space than we could afford to set aside for them. Now what to do?

Well, the good news is that we don’t need the camels anymore. Indeed, we now extract so much milk from cows that local producers have started bathing entire towns with the stuff. Our drains are overflowing with milk, as are our roads. Does wonders for the complexion. We hope you saw the pictures. How is that for the Mahinda Chinthana being on target?

The 2005 Mahinda Chinthana lamented that only 15 per cent of our domestic milk demand was met by local production. We have to change this unfortunate situation, it said. Instead of enriching multinational companies–nasty, nasty people–by granting subsidies on imported milk powder, every effort must be made to ensure self-sufficiency in milk production.

By the time the 2010 Mahinda Chinthana was released, there was an improvement. This document said 33 per cent of national milk requirement was met locally. It said the dairy sector would be prioritized for public investment. It blamed growing demand and the open market policy for a sharp increase in the import of milk and milk products. As of 2009, this comprised 2.1 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total food imports

Milk business – a little tricky

That is, indeed, a ghastly and completely unnecessary figure. When this country has cows and bulls aplenty, why not make use of them? In recognition of this fact–for President Rajapaksa knows his cows and bulls when he sees them-the 2010 Mahinda Chinthana promised to increase total milk production to the level of self-sufficiency.

This is noble stuff. Self-sufficiency is always a good thing. We are currently self-sufficient in several spheres. For instance, Sri Lanka grows so many vegetables and so much rice now that it even took Sri Lankans by surprise. If nobody else, it stupefied the government which is still wondering what to do with the surplus.

Unfortunately, one of the commodities Sri Lanka is still not self-sufficient in is ‘conspiracy.’ We still import most of our conspiracies from abroad, predominantly the West. There is a conspiracy behind every tree and they’re all foreign.

Conspiracies even attended the ruling UPFA government’s May Day rally this year. Addressing workers, President Rajapaksa said he will not allow international conspirators to destabilize the country by creating disputes. Even trade disputes are today the result of international conspiracies. Since the import of these versatile conspiracies doesn’t cost us anything in dollar terms, we’re ok.

But this milk business is a little tricky. While production has certainly risen, collection appears not to have kept pace. It is so poor, in fact, that some farmers last week spilled their milk onto the streets saying collecting companies were not buying.

Trust this government to do things in halves. They get the farmers to grow more vegetables and paddy, and then hang around (scratching their nether regions) while the produce goes to rot. The same seems to have happened with milk.

It was only last week that cabinet granted approval for all liquid milk to be purchased from farmers through the state-owned MILCO. According to state media, a spokesman said cabinet had “paid special attention” to the collection and sale of liquid milk because production had “risen considerably due to incentives given by the government to dairy farmers.”

Now wouldn’t it have been perfectly lovely if someone had alerted the government to this fact well before milk producers were driven to melodrama?

The 2010 Mahinda Chinthana itself notes that the income dairy farmers earn from their cow’s milk depends on the market and the collection systems. “Based on the available data, the formal dairy processing industry collects only around 50-60 per cent of the total production,” it states. “In most areas, milk is collected once a day due to unavailability of a proper cold chain. Thus, the milk marketing and processing at all levels needed to be developed through establishing proper cold chains with the support of the private sector and private public partnerships.”

This section was clearly drafted by people who know their dairy. It is such a pity that their input vanished somewhere in between drafting and implementation.

In addition to deciding that MILCO will buy all liquid milk from farmers (and we are almost certainly sure that this is impossible under prevailing circumstances), cabinet also increased the import duty on milk powder by quite a margin. The logic behind this is that, with foreign milk becoming prohibitively expensive, Sri Lankans will turn to local milk.

But if collecting systems have not been improved to meet with increased production or demand, how are we to get this local milk? Don’t know, men. They’ll figure something out… eventually. courtesy: LakbimaNews

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