World Milk day is on June 1 each year since 2001, facilitated by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and has a great significance with COVID-19 where local resources and values are being recognized by people at large.
India is the largest milk producing country in the world with around 150 million Metric tons of milk and per capita production of 300 ml milk per day, a cup for each person. Dairy has been part of the culture and livelihood that supports the entire nation and has also been a source of economy.
Unfortunately, though Diary is a part of the Sri Lankan culture, life and economy milk had been a neglected source for variety of reasons. We import around 75,000 tons of Milk powder to the tune of 400 million dollars annually. Recently the Corona (COVID-19) had stressed the value of ‘our own food and nutrition’ for immunity and survival and save of foreign exchange. Here may be an opportunity for us to seriously consider investment and support. There had been periods of ‘plain tea and hakuru’ which supported the revival of our economy and if so we could do it again. Drink ‘fresh milk and drink daily’ for a heap of reasons. There had been also sentiments expressed against it from certain quarters but rarely anyone had any to say against the products yoghurt, curd, paneer, ghee and newly frozen yoghurt taking ice cream into competition.
Our production is only around 35-50% of our need at present ad we cannot expect to leap from our stand but progress slowly. Most of the production is from around 1-1.5 liters of milk per day per animal in the dry zone and if this could be taken to an average of 3 liters per day we would be reaching nearly double in many places. One of the key drawback has been that the dairying is still not considered as a profession but a ‘side business’. Those who have large herds even refuse to milk but leave it for trade elsewhere. It is essential that this changes to the benefit of the county in terms of nutrition, economy, foreign exchange and under the current trend ‘enhancement of livelihood’. There needs to be state assistance for cattle feed as that becomes the most expensive component in the chain while exploring better options for cheaper cattle feed utilizing our natural resources. There would/should be no objection really to change the maize, soybean, fishmeal to anything that would substitute the nourishment to the cattle in principle. There needs to be a drive to get back to our traditional value of dairy in the system may be away from the powder milk culture that had become a practice for convenience. Though recognize the Melamine and herbicide mixings in milk powder and many more ill effects we tend to forget them but consider ‘convenience’ as the most important objective. But today CORONA had made us think twice about conveniences alone and track back to indigenous values of food and habits. Consumption of Milk may be one on that line. Afterall, millions of people over centuries in many countries cannot be wrong consuming fresh milk. Rarely stated is that in all the ‘developed countries’ fresh milk is the ‘pasteurized milk’ (processed around 70 degrees Celsius and suddenly cooled to 4 degrees to eradicate the pathogenic organisms) they take daily, which is available only in main cities in Sri Lanka and limited, unfortunately.
It has become a practice of the buyer to ask ‘how long does it keep’ which may not be the best question for Milk as it should be consumed as early as possible. ANY product which has longer shelf life will have many additives for protection or have lost the values in it to a great extent. India has introduced ‘daily milk’ for that day only. Fresh needs to be consumed early as possible and the Pasteurized milk lasts for around 4 days in refrigerated condition. It is advised that the milk is consumed as early as possible if it is available or as early as possible subject to availability and convenience.
Let this 20th International Milk day facilitated by FAO be a recognition for the beginning of a new life to Fresh milk in Sri Lanka, an industry and livelihood that had survived the periods in history as a source of nutrition to all.
*The Author is a Professor of Botany and Former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University. He was also the founder of the JUGAS AGRO DAIRIES at Chenkaladi, producing fresh milk, youghurt, panner, flavoured milk, curd and other products which was also marketed in Colombo during that period.