Kerala milk glut hurts dairy farmers, helps the sick

WIN 210524_MILMA.JPG-1621866654340
Customers at an outlet of Milma, the Kerala Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Thiruvananthapuram: Lots of milk in the house is traditionally considered auspicious and a sign of prosperity in Indian homes. Right now, though, Kerala is experiencing a strange situation – it has an excess of milk, which has dealt a body blow to dairy farmers even as it lights up the faces of COVID-19 affected and some others in dire need, who are being nourished with the excess milk.

The problem of plenty is particularly acute in Kerala’s northern Malabar region, while the central and southern regions have managed to mop up all the milk that dairy farmers have been producing.

Milk deluge for Milma

The impact of the milk deluge is felt most severely by the Kerala Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (KCMMF), popularly known as Milma.

The cooperative collects roughly 1.6 million litres of milk from more than 3,000 milk cooperative societies through three member unions based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. Nearly half of this milk is from the northern zone.

COVID-19-induced restrictions over the past weeks and a lockdown over the past fortnight have severely hampered milk distribution and resulted in Milma deciding not to procure milk delivered by dairy farmers in the afternoon in the Malabar region.

The state government has since stepped in and assured that all milk produced will be procured by Milma.

‘Milk challenge’

On its part, Milma has launched a ‘milk challenge’ campaign, exhorting people to drink more milk, pitching it as a means to improving their immunity even as it helps dairy farmers.

“Have a little more milk, save our dairy farmers” is Milma’s theme for the milk challenge, which requests consumers to voluntarily take up the challenge.

The milk glut has been made more severe by the fact that very few restaurants and wayside tea shops are now open in Kerala, owing to local and state-wide travel restrictions.

NRIs in the fray

Several reasons have led to the spurt in milk production in the state. “Following the COVID-19 outbreak, many NRIs who returned home have also got into dairy farming. We have encouraged them,” Milma chairman P.A. Balan told Gulf News.

Balan estimates that currently about 350,000 litres of production are excess on a daily basis, considering the distribution constraints. Most of this is going to neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to be converted into milk powder.

Price assurance

John Theruvath, chairman of Milma’s Ernakulam zone of milk producers’ union said one reason why so many have got into dairy farming is because “milk prices once fixed have never gone down, unlike other commodity prices”.

Theruvath said excess milk had to be sent outside the state for conversion into milk powder since there was no government-owned processing facility in Kerala. Milma is planning a Rs500-million milk processing unit in Malappuram, which is expected to be functional in a year’s time.

Farmer frustration

Milma’s decision not to procure post-noon milk for a few days in the Malabar region sent many dairy farmers into a tizzy. Local media reported that some farmers in Kozhikode drenched themselves in milk to protest the stoppage of procurement.

But the distress for dairy farmers has turned into a blessing for many others. Several farmers distributed milk free of cost in many parts of the state, including Meenakshipuram in Chittoor near Palakkad.

In many other places, the excess milk has found its way to COVID-19 treatment centres, where needy patients are now being nourished by the state’s unexpected milk glut.