Feeding aspects and other challenges faced by the Indian Dairy Industry

srivaThe socio-economic conditions in India render the Indian Dairy Industry in sharp contrast to the industrially advanced nations. The demand for milk and milk products is estimated at about 210 MT by 2020-21. The dairy industry has to overcome several roadblocks before this challenge is met. The constraints that the industry faces begin at the animal rearing and management stage, which has a cascading effect on milk production and thereafter, milk processing and value addition.
Milk produced in India comes from buffalos, cows as well as a very small proportion from small ruminants and camel. The major constraints facing development of the dairy sector are the low productivity and very large numbers of animals across all species. The multitudes of non-descript cattle that produce 1-2 litres of milk is the mainstay of the dairy industry. Proper breeding policies, management strategies and feeding practices would be necessary to upgrade the productivity of these animals. Efforts to bring about any tangible change in the production systems would involve increasing the average animal holdings to an middle level of 5 to 10 milch animals (from the current 1-2) by providing credit, technological support in terms of breeding, feeding and management inputs and market access.
The indigenous cattle are well adapted to the tropical climate, owing to their inherent superior resistance towards heat and tropical diseases. However, the numbers of elite local breeds are depleting, due to over-enthusiastic cross breeding programmes and lack of adequate management and care. Cross breeding of local cattle with elite exotic breeds has definitely contributed to improved animal productivity and increased milk production in the country. But poor heat tolerance and more susceptibility to disease and pest infection to the cross bred cattle have proved to be a problem, leading to higher investments in their feeding and management. It is now being felt that while cross-breeding is here to stay, in order to maintain the milk production levels and meet the demand for milk, the germplasm of high yielding indigenous animals should be conserved. The breeding policies should be such that crossing of elite indigenous breeds with exotic germplasm should be discontinued. The non-descript Indian breeds should be continuously improved using semen of elite Indian breeds.
Lack of good quality semen and very good coverage of artificial insemination in unorganized sector, has seriously impaired attempts for genetic improvement of the national milch herd. Embryo transfer technology, sexing of semen, cloning, developing markers for diagnosis of subclinical mastitis and pregnancy, and electronic nose for oestrus detection through genomics, proteomics, biotechnology and genetic engineering are some of the research and technology interventions that would help to generate a “National Milk Herd” of animal with improved performance.
Buffaloes being the highest contributors to the milk bowl of the country, their breed improvement and management should not be ignored. Genetic improvement and conservation of high milk producing buffalo breeds through selective breeding in their home tracts is very essential to increase their milk production. Upgrading of non-descript buffaloes with the improved and superior breeds is another potentially important step. The milk of small ruminants is now gaining prominence, as it is being proved that their milk has rare therapeutic and health-enhancing attributes. These qualities, if exploited, can lead to the dairy industry being the leading supplier of naturally derived milk biomolecules as ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry.
Among the management practices, animal nutrition, especially balanced feeding plays the major role in improving the livestock health, reproductive efficiency and milk production. Since ages, the dairy animals in India have sustained on by-products of agriculture and allied food crops such as residues from crops, oilseed processing, fruit juice and distilleries. As there is no scope for increasing the land coverage under fodder cultivation, alternative sources of feeds and unconventional methods to cultivate fodder need to be explored. Novel technologies, such as “hydroponics” promises to solve the problem of fodder inadequacy in water scarcity areas. This technology does not need soil to grow fodder, and that, in turn, also solves the problem of residues, which are otherwise transferred to livestock products and are hazardous for human consumption. Unfortunately, the growth of feed industry has not been in tune with the demands of livestock industry. The problem is not only the shortage of feed ingredients, but also the poor management of feed resources. Since feed serves as the raw material for the production of milk, meat, fish and poultry, feed industry must gear up to meet the challenge of feed requirement for reaching the target for milk and other livestock products.
Of the total milk produced in India, 64% is in trade, of which only 27% is processed through the organised sector. Channelizing the milk from the unorganised sector to the organised is the major challenge that faces the processing industry. The poor quality of milk that arrives at the processing dock, coupled with the large scale of adulteration is another hurdle. Measure to be adopted to mitigate this at the grassroots level would include education of farmers on the harmful effects of spurious additives, health and hygiene of animals, precautions to be exercised in the use of veterinary drugs and other medicines and the adverse effects of high levels of antibiotics and their residues in milk. Adequate initiatives to encourage farmers to produce fodder and feed free from pesticides, aflatoxins and heavy metals will have to be taken. Qualitative and quantitative assessment of adulterants and reliable methods to detect them in the least possible time will discourage vendors and middlemen from adding contaminants to milk.
Modernisation of the domestic supply chain is very essential to tackle quality-related problems. Infra-structural facilities ranging from chilling facilities at village level to adequate and accurate testing facilities with trained manpower for routine testing and maintenance of cold chains, need to be created. Testing of contaminants and harmful substances as covered under the clauses of SPS and TBT of the WTO will require establishment of state-of-the-art testing and analytical laboratories. It would be absolutely essential to implement good hygienic practices at primary milk production levels and translate these as good manufacturing practices (GMP) at plant level in order to meet the quality challenges. Once these problems are overcome, there is no dearth of product technologies available in the country, which brings the processing industry to the forefront to compete with any major dairying nation of the world. India can emerge as a reliable quality dairy supplier in the international market. There is need to inculcate in sense of responsiveness in all stakeholders, and a firm determination to improve the attitude and approach towards the “business of dairying” in order to address the challenges being faced by the Indian dairy industry.

by Dr. A.K. Srivastava, Director, NDRI, Karnal