Shopian: With more and more dairy farms being established after import of high-breed cows, which have increased the milk production manifold, the recent decline in tourist footfall, small number of non-local labourers, and weekend Covid lockdown has resulted in huge decline in both demand and rates of milk in Kashmir.
Many dairy farmers told Kashmir Reader that middlemen have been reducing the rates of milk by Rs 3 to Rs 8 per litre since the imposition of weekend lockdown and increase in number of Covid cases in Kashmir.
Ghulam Rasool, a local from Trenz area of Shopian, said that now the pickup truck meant to transport milk visits the area only three to four days in a week. The delay either spoils the milk or farmers are forced to sell it at cheaper prices to local customers, with demand in Srinagar and other towns staying low.
Muhammad Shafat, owner of a leading milk company in Kashmir, said that it is fact that there is much decline in demand for milk. “Only 5 to 10 percent milk (of plant capacity) is being processed these days. We also don’t collect milk for two days in a week. Though it comes under essential goods, milk is also supplied to hotels and restaurants, but they remain closed for two days due to the weekend lockdown,” he said.
Ahmad added that he hopes demand will pick up within a week. “Covid positivity rate is declining, there is increase in temperature as well, and people who visit other states during winters have also started to come back, which will increase the demand,” he said, adding that his company has not reduced rates nor has any plans to do so.
Locals say that families that were consuming milk only for tea have now started making curd and cheese out of it, due to the low prices. “The rate decline has been good for consumers but the producers are bearing losses because of it,” a dairy farmer said.
Gulzar Ahmad Ganie, a cattle owner in Chandgam village of Pulwama, said, “We buy locally grown rice fodder bundles at Rs 4,000 a hundred and pay Rs 400 to Rs 700 for a bag of wheat husk. This quantity doesn’t last even for a week for a cow which produces about 10 litres of milk. This is beside the amount spent on other nutritious items.” Ganie added that the input costs for high-breed cows are even more.
Though small-scale dairy farmers may bear the losses that have come with a temporary rate decline, dairy farmers who have spent tens of lakhs of rupees on import of high breed cows and machinery may not be able to sustain business.
Mushtaq Ahmad, a hotelier, said that 90 percent of milk in Kashmir is sold in loose form, and there is no quality control over it. “When there is no quality control and rates are similar, many buyers prefer to use packed milk which comes from other states, thus declining the demand for local produce,” he said.
Dr Ashiq Hussain, a veterinarian, said that the decline in demand has arisen due to weekend lockdowns. “There is lower demand for milk because a lockdown is being imposed on weekends. There is no worry; the rates will increase soon, even more than what farmers were getting earlier,” he said.
A senior animal husbandry department official said that the rate decline problem is mostly in Pulwama rather than in Shopian or Kulgam. “There are many reasons, but most important is the rivalry among middlemen and milk collection agencies. We are working on it and everything will be back on track,” he said.
Kashmir on average produces about 40 lakh litres of milk daily.