Thursday, July 25, 2024

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Indian Dairy Sector – Embracing Sustainable Development

The path of dairy development pursued by India has enabled millions of smallholder dairy farmers to experience the collective power of cooperative institutions, thus establishing dairying as an instrument of socio-economic change in the country. From being a milk deficient nation earlier, India, today is the world’s largest milk producer with production of 230.6 million tonne milk and per capita availability of 459 gram per day in 2022-23.

At present, milk is the single largest agricultural commodity, giving employment to more than 80 million rural households directly. Milk production in India has grown by about 6% per annum during 2014-15 to 2022-23 as against global growth rate of about 2%. Most of the milk is produced by animals reared by small, marginal and landless farmers with a herd size of 2 to 3 animals. Apart from contributing to food security and nutrition, dairying has played a significant role in transforming rural livelihoods by providing employment and income generating opportunities, particularly for marginal and women farmers.

As per United Nations, India will be a country of 1.63 billion people by 2050. The Indian dairy sector has potential to meet this growing demand of food for additional population (mostly lacto-vegetarian), however, in the era of climate change there is need to ensure that intensification of dairying required to meet this additional demand remains socio-economically and environmentally sustainable.

Going forward, the Indian dairy sector has a blueprint ready for achieving this sustainable and inclusive growth. In the next 20 years, India aims to increase bovine milk productivity by 3 times, expand coverage of organised dairy sector by 2 times and increase share of value-added milk products by 2 times.

India contributes about 5% to the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all sectors. Within India’s total GHG emissions, livestock’s share is about 10%. Enteric fermentation is a major hotspot contributing about 89% of livestock’s direct GHGs, followed by manure (11%). The Indian dairy sector also aims to become Carbon Neutral to meet COP26 climate goals.

The Indian dairy sector has undertaken several initiatives addressing the major aspects of dairy sustainability. These include productivity enhancement though scientific breeding, nutrition and health, enhancing green fodder productivity, manure management, use of renewable energy, improving energy use efficiency, organic farming and carbon sequestration.

Scientific breeding programmes (Progeny Testing, Pedigree Selection and Genomics) are helping to accelerate genetic progress in animals. Genetic improvement is being achieved through selection for higher milk production and milk quality, disease and heat tolerance, better reproduction and feed utilisation, and less methane emission per kg of milk. Technologies such as sex-sorted semen, and in vitro embryo production and transfer are being promoted at an affordable cost.

To enhance productivity and strengthen organised supply chain of green fodder, emphasis is being given to increase availability of quality fodder seeds of improved genetics, establish Fodder Plus Farmer Producer Organisations and promote fodder conservation under various schemes of Government of India.

To improve milk productivity and quality, optimise cost of milk production and reduce enteric methane emission, scientific feeding programmes such as Ration Balancing, Total Mixed Ration, strategic feeding as per physiological stages and various feed supplements are being promoted. Ration Balancing aims to educate milk producers by providing doorstep ration advisory service for their animals. It helps reduce enteric methane by 13.7% besides improving milk yield and optimising cost of production. Utilisation of locally available agro-industrial by-products (circular bio-economy) is being popularised. Feed additives are being developed to mitigate methane emission and improve milk productivity.

Animal health interventions such as disease prevention through national vaccination programmes, disease control through alternative methods (ethnoveterinary practices – to reduce antibiotic usage and antimicrobial resistance) and One Health concept are being implemented.

Manure management programmes are implemented for efficient utilisation of dung, production of clean energy, propagation of sustainable agricultural practices, mitigation of GHG emissions and generate additional revenue for farmers. Small capacity flexi anaerobic digestors are installed at smallholder dairy farms to convert dung into biogas which is then used to replace fossil fuel. Surplus slurry is aggregated, processed centrally to produce solid and liquid organic fertilisers. Milk unions have started to procure dung from farmers, process it centrally to produce biogas at large scale which is then either purified, compressed and used as bio-CNG or utilised to meet the thermal and electrical energy need of dairy processing plants. These centralised facilities also convert slurry into organic fertilisers and distribute them to smallholder farmers to replace chemical fertilisers, improve soil fertility and mitigate GHG emissions. Further, automobile companies are approaching milk unions with attractive business models to setup large capacity dung-based bio-CNG plants to provide mobility to rural people at affordable cost, produce organic fertilisers, contribute to further strengthen rural economy and achieve carbon neutrality.

Genetic selection, use of feed additives, adoption of scientific feeding and manure management practices would together help reduce methane emission from the sector by about 25 to 30%.

Agriculture farmers are using solar panels to generate renewable energy for sustainable use of groundwater for irrigation. Surplus energy is transferred to power grid to generate additional income through a cooperative enterprise. Bulk milk coolers in villages and milk processing plants at district level are being supported for increased utilisation of solar energy for milk chilling and processing.

Efforts are being made for carbon sequestration through promotion of agroforestry, pasture management, intercropping, erosion control, addition of organic amendments and use of cover crops. Farmers are encouraged for adoption of regenerative agriculture or organic farming. Further, marketing support for organic products is also provided through a national cooperative under government initiative.

For precise estimation of impact of mitigation actions on environmental footprints, the sector has adopted lifecycle assessment approach of International Dairy Federation. To scale up sustainability initiatives across India, a mechanism is being developed to generate carbon credits from manure management and other projects, and to use these credits to incentivise farmers for continuing best practices or subsidise investment in such initiatives. Besides this, Government of India’s Green Credit Programme would also help provide incentives to milk unions for undertaking sustainability initiatives. For successful adoption of sustainability measures, stakeholders need to be supported with appropriate policies, schemes and incentives.

Sustainability initiatives coupled with strategic focus on productivity improvement of animals, expanding coverage of milk cooperatives, women empowerment, increasing share of organised market, focusing on milk quality and digitalisation would help achieve sustainable and inclusive dairy development in the country.