Since 1998, India has been gloating over its remarkable success in overtaking the US as the number one producer of fluid milk in the world. This singular achievement was mainly due to the pioneering efforts of National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), led by that visionary Dr Varghese Kurien beginning 1970 under the Operation Flood Program. The cooperative movement which first established itself in the milk sector in Gujarat, spread to other states also leading to remunerative returns to milk producers which in turn resulted in quantum jump in production and productivity. Still India lags behind many countries in cattle productivity and the current milk yield from an India cattle is hardly 1000kg per lactation cycle, compared to the world average of 2000 kg and achievable target of 8000 kg. Though much efforts had gone into areas like cattle genetics, better fodder use and improvement in veterinary practices, the current annual growth of a measly 4% is considered inadequate to meet the demand for milk in the coming years.
If average per capita availability figures give any indication of the adequacy of milk in the country, it is 263 g per day in India compared to the world average of 280g per day, which is not bad. There are two factors which vitiate such calculations and any smug feeling that the country is self sufficient is likely to evaporate when one peeps into future. First average figures hide more than what they reveal and the bitter truth is that there is wide disparity in milk consumption pattern in India with the poor not able to afford to buy the nutritionally required minimum at the current market price. Second, looking at the future, there is even a suggestion from experts that India will have to go for import of milk products within a span of 10 years if the milk production does not increase to 180 million tons from the present anticipated production of about 120 million tons in 2011, implying an annual growth rate of about 6%. Whether this is achievable depends on the success of the National Dairy Plan of GOI taken up this year with an outlay of Rs 15.84 billion, major emphasis being put on improved productivity and bringing more milk into the processing grid in the organized dairy sector. If India could increase milk production six times between 1968 and 2011, the target does not look like that formidable.
One of the features of Indian dairying is that most of the milk produced and distributed is in the unorganized sector, almost to the extent of 80%. Many old timers recall with nostalgia the familiar sight of the local milk producer delivering fresh milk to individual households early in the morning. Bringing the cow or buffalo in front of the house for milking in the presence of the buyer is is still in vogue in some parts of the country to pre-empt adulteration and addition of water. Of course this scenario is rapidly changing in urban areas where rearing of cattle is almost impractical and the packed milk taking over the distribution. Looking at the relative merits of fresh milk distribution and new technological innovations that use for making pasteurized and sterilized milk, common sense points out to progressive shift from the fresh milk with high perishability mode to stabilized processed milk regime. Pasteurization after all can only kill the heat-sensitive pathogens leaving thermally stable bacterial spores in tact which can spoil the milk in a matter of few hours under ambient conditions. Ultra High Temperature (UHT)processing at 135C for 2-5 seconds and aseptic packing, on the other hand gives shelf stable product with more than 6 months life.
According to the Dairy experts Indian consumers are expected to switch over in huge numbers to packaged milk from loose milk in the coming years due to many compelling factors which include faster urbanization, expansion of middle class population, convenience factor, time constraint, increased milk consumption due to shift in the diet from cereals to more protective foods, etc. Entry of private sector into dairying also will facilitate such a transition while the fast expanding milk handling infrastructure will come in handy for setting up more processing facilities. By opting increasingly for packed milk consumers can avoid the hassles and disadvantages of by loose milk of uncertain quality, extensive adulteration and water addition becoming standard practice of many loose vendors. While on the subject of packaged milk, it is not clear why the organized dairies are not switching over to new pasteurization technologies which use cartons and plastic carboys with 10-15 days shelf life under refrigerated conditions while the whole world is using the same. Similarly the aseptically packed milk with 6 months life is making very slow progress in the country, though with a slight caramelized flavor Indian consumer will find this version more acceptable. Probably the consumer price which hovers around Rs 40 per liter as compared to Rs 20-25 for milk sachet may the major reason. The milk scenario in most Asian countries is likely to follow the Indian development which is good from the consumer perspective.