Dairy Farming: For a Prosperous Nation | Daily News

Dairy Farming: For a Prosperous Nation

Milk which is a highly nutritious food source is vital for growing children, essential for sports and enhances the life of senior citizens. Dairy cattle are the most efficient of all farm livestock in converting feed protein and energy to food.

As ruminants, they are capable of converting the fibrous herbage of plants into nutritious foods and other highly useful products. This ability of ruminants, together with the high nutritional qualities of milk and milk products and meat, enabled people to live in environments which could not be inhabited as long as they were dependent upon plant agriculture alone. Milk has been appreciated as one of nature’s perfect foods, supplying humans with energy and essential nutrients. It is an excellent source of some of the best proteins in nature with all the essential amino acids in generous concentration.

In 2011, milk production was estimated at 748.7 million tonnes, of which 620.7 million tonnes was cow’s milk, produced by an estimated 260 million cows. In the last decade, the value of milk as well as that of all agricultural products has shown an increasing trend. For certain parts of the world, milk production value accounts for more than 20 percent of the total agricultural value. Assessing the benefits of dairy farming in terms of employment is especially relevant in developing countries, including Sri Lanka. Globally, around 150 million small-scale dairy households, equivalent to 750 million people, are engaged in milk production. Because of the nutritional excellence of dairy products, rational planning for improving world nutrition should include planning for expanding the role of dairying throughout the world.

Since 2000, the trade value of dairy products had tended to increase, whereas the share in global agricultural trade has been fluctuating. Trade plays a role in many countries in helping to improve the variety of affordable dairy products available in a country. In addition, traded products play a role in helping support a country’s dairy processing sector, particularly in countries without sufficient domestic milk production. Dairy is necessary to the trade balance of many countries, but then again, some countries are more dependent than others when it comes to the exchange of dairy products. The dairy sector can play a significant role in providing jobs for rural communities. This is true in the Sri Lankan context. Having travelled across the country, I have observed that families engaged in dairy farming lead a contented and peaceful life, where their neighbours respect them and purchase fresh milk from them. Dairy production and processing provide employment, not only to people who work on dairy farms but also to the wider network that includes processing, packing, transport, storage, supply and dairy sales outlets.

Dairy farming is an important source of subsidiary income for small and medium farmers and agricultural labourers. It gives them a decent income. In addition to milk, the manure from farm animals provides a good source of organic matter for improving soil fertility and crop yields. This is used for their home gardens which in turn yield fruits and vegetables. The gas from the dung is used as fuel for domestic purposes, including cooking. I must mention that during the Covid pandemic, dairy farmers had less demand for vegetables, milk etc. amidst other mild challenges that affected them. The surplus fodder and agricultural byproducts are gainfully utilised for feeding the animals. An important specialisation in agricultural history (globally) was the development of breeds of cattle with high genetic capacity for milk production. Paralleling this was the development and application of technologies of forage and grain production to provide the needed feed base for high-producing cows.

We can draw some insight from our neighbour India which is blessed with the largest livestock population in the world. It accounts for about 57.3 percent of the world’s buffalo population and 14.7 percent of the cattle population. Ruminant animals are significant contributors to agricultural income in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Geo-positioning and climate of the country are highly relevant to the available food sources and the existence of various food traditions. Rice is the staple and the main carbohydrate source of the Sri Lankan diet since ancient days. Cultivation of paddy and the production of rice have been central to the societal, cultural, religious, and economic activities of our hard-working people. The Cascade Tank-Village System of Sri Lanka is recognised globally. Our ancient agriculture and irrigation systems have provided life-sustaining water for water-intensive rice cultivation securing food supply and creating a resilient ecosystem in rural areas. Within this framework, small-scale farms can be seen in agriculture-dependent communities.

In the global farming industry, disease and other factors can constrain production, but the improved genetic potential of animals, adequate feed supplies, and good animal nutrition are the hallmarks of successful dairy production in the developed world. Population growth, energy shortage, and the impact of unfavourable weather could constrain the development of animal production systems.

The rapidly expanding urban population and the changing lifestyles increase the demand for processed and semi-processed convenient foods, especially in urban markets. Urban and semi-urban consumer groups look for traditional food in the form of convenient foods without compromising their known health benefits. Dairy products are on everyone’s shopping list, especially Sri Lankan families who have children.

Dairy and water buffalo milk are consumed in various ways. In a traditional Sri Lankan village setting, milking cows and a few calves are considered essential for a sustainable life that ensures a good nutritional status in the family, even extending to neighbours. Dairy milk gives five essences (Pasgorasa); milk, curd, ghee, cream/butter, and whey which are desired delicacies. Ghee is exclusively obtained from the cream by removing water; the remaining non-fat solids and fat develop characteristic flavour and texture.

Traditionally, buffalo milk is converted to curd for consumption. Curd accompanied with treacle completes the most favoured traditional dessert in Sri Lankan cuisine. The whey fraction or buttermilk (Moru) makes a popular beverage which is cooling on hot days. Livestock plays a crucial role in the socio-economic life of Sri Lanka.

Consumer awareness on food and ingredients creates the market pull in the direction of healthy eating which needs the cooperation of both agri-food and health sectors. The dairy food processing industry needs quality parameters that are science-based in order to maintain raw material sourcing, ingredient processing, product manufacturing, and storage aligning with the nutritional value desired in the final product. It is good to see many local dairy companies working hard to give the consumers quality products. I have been privileged to visit the dairy farm operated by the Sri Lanka Air Force, where the yield is used for the servicemen and their families. The farm and yoghurt-producing facility maintain good standards which is highly commendable.

Where Sri Lanka is concerned, family farms must continue to expand and enhance animal agriculture, and their well being is important to rural development. Farm animals not only yield milk but also contribute to meat products for the local market. The processing and marketing of dairy products add a considerable volume of economic activity beyond the farm gate. There is a global trend among tourists for agro-tourism, and rural dairy farms can be part of this rewarding experience.

Every Sri Lankan child should have access to affordable quality dairy products, with milk being the priority. Dairy farming is vital to Sri Lanka in many aspects, and local farmers must be supported in every possible way.

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