Milk food revolution against multinationals

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Some time back UNP Parliamentarian Rosy Senanayake participated in a protest against fuel price hike by going about in a bullock cart (buggy). If she does the same today by going around Colombo, she will be giving the public an invaluable message. But she is unlikely to do so. There were two outstanding Sri Lankans who appeared in TV commercials without charging a cent in support of breast feeding. They were MP Arjuna Ranatunga who won the World Cricket Cup and Susanthika Jayasinghe, Olympic medal winner. Even today both are promoting breast feeding against imported infant milk powder. Self-sufficiency in milk The harmful effects of imported milk powder had been noted in the ‚ÄėMahinda Chinthana‚Äô vision which had proposed solutions for the problem. The Government‚Äôs target is to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in milk by 2016, thus saving billions of dollars spent on importing milk foods. Minister Basil Rajapaksa has been entrusted with fulfilling the task under the Divi Neguma National program. The committee appointed for the purpose comprises the Economic Development Ministry, the Livestock and Rural Community Development Ministry. During the first stage, the best breeds of dairy cows will be imported to meet the objective. Already Jersey and Friesian cows have been imported from Australia for hill country farms where the climate is suitable for these animals. Offspring born out of them through artificial insemination will be distributed among dairy farmers at reasonable prices. At first 500 dairy cows were imported from Australia. Thereafter 1,500 more were imported. As a result a vast number has been bred by now. These cows produce twice the quantity of litres of milk that is usually obtained from a local breed. Seven or eight of these cows died due to natural causes, which is nothing unusual although the Opposition made a big issue of it. It benefitted only the multinationals. The Government‚Äôs aim is to make the Sri Lanka self-sufficient in all its food requirements. The process began in 2005 and today we are self-sufficient in rice. Fertiliser subsidies have encouraged the farmer and consequently the country is also self-sufficient in food crops sorghum and ulundu. The Government has also decided to stop importing red onions and big onions by 2015. The Government‚Äôs plans to boost the local milk industry have made the multinationals furious. Through well-funded organisations they instigated dairy farmers in the Nuwara Eliya District to stage bogus demonstrations in five towns simultaneously, persuading them to pour milk by the litre on their bodies and also spill the liquid into drains. This had never happened in the country before. No dairy farmer ever did such a thing. Although no one drank the milk obtained during the first few days after a dairy cow gave birth to a calf (since that milk was considered unfit for human consumption), it was never spilled to the ground. Instead it was poured into a pit dug for the purpose in the farm premises. Most of the demonstrators were not real farmers but those who had been hired for the purpose. Milk for the village One of the JVP‚Äôs slogans during the reign of terror in 1987-90 was that milk was available not to villagers but only to the people of Colombo. The Government changed the slogan into ‚ÄėMilk from the village is for the village‚Äô. On 14 May 2012, a program was launched to provide each of the students in 523 schools in the Nuwara Eliya District with a free glass of 150 millilitres of milk. Accordingly, 159,403 boys and girls were provided with free liquid milk. "Steps already taken to import the best breeds of dairy cows from Australia and give their offspring to local farmers should be expedited. The Government should educate both adults and children to consume only local milk products for improving their health and saving valuable foreign exchange. It will usher in a bright future for our younger generation" Raising the nutrition level of school children and protecting the interests of the local dairy farmer are the two objectives of this program. The Nuwara Eliya District was selected for launching the program since it is the district known for the highest percentage of malnutrition. Today 120,000 litres of milk are produced in the Nuwara Eliya District. Sri Lanka has 9,662 Government schools where 3.9 million children are studying. The Government‚Äôs aim is to provide these students with fresh milk in the same way free school uniforms are given to them. Steps were also taken under Divi Neguma to facilitate dairy and poultry farming in the premises of these schools. But the organised conspiracy the multinationals hatched by misleading Nuwara Eliya dairy farmers has obstructed the program. Multinationals Multinationals first introduced powdered milk to Sri Lanka in 1927. At the beginning it was provided through hospitals free of charge, claiming that milk powder was nutritious for our children and would also help lactating mothers to produce more milk to breastfeed! For the first time advertisements in colour were published in Sinhala newspapers like Sandaresa and Dinamina in January 1936. The brands included Cow & Gate and Lactogen. Thereafter in 1945 the companies falsely propagated that milk powder they produced was ideal for the whole family. However, after independence in 1948, the Government Information Department launched a strong counter campaign to promote fresh cow‚Äôs milk, stressing its true nutritious value. The Department categorically stated there was nothing to beat fresh milk. In July 1943 ‚Äď before Sri Lanka became independent ‚Äď D.S. Senanayake, the then Agriculture Minister, started the Ambewela farm in a 700 acre-area. In 1946 the farm was further expanded. Thereafter to develop dairy farming and promote local milk products the Government also set up five more dairy farms in Bopaththalawa, Karagoda, Uyangoda, Polonnaruwa and Kilinochchi. But multinationals sabotaged this entire program by sending top Government officials to countries like Britain, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and America on scholarships granted by imperialist international organisations. It was this long-term conspiracy which helped multinationals baptise imported milk power as the ‚Äúfood of royal babies‚ÄĚ in the eyes of Sri Lankans by 1965. All this was done in the same way CARE (Cooperative American Relief Everywhere) wheat flour biscuits were given free at first to Sri Lankan school children. Later the free distribution was stopped for the multinationals to sell wheat flour. It took 40 more years to revive the struggle to make the country self-sufficient in fresh milk, under the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. Production and consumption There are 238,322 registered dairy farmers while the number of unregistered dairy farmers are said to be nearly 100,000. Two hundred and four million litres of milk are obtained annually from 251,490 dairy cows. The number of buffalos is around 86,220 and they provide 5.5 million litres of milk annually. The daily production of milk in Sri Lanka is 800,000 litres according to the Livestock and Rural Community Development Ministry. Animal products and health products reports say milk consumption per person in Sri Lanka a day is 135 millilitres. According to the Medical Research Institute‚Äôs recommendations this consumption should be 100 litres. If Sri Lanka is to become self-sufficient in milk the annual production should rise to 732 million by the end of 2015 from the present 258 million. A total of 800,000 litres of milk reach the market a day. Of this amount Milco, Nestle and Pelawatte Companies purchase nearly 500,000 per day. According Milco buys 210,000, Nestle 160,000, Pelawatte 130,000, Kothmale 40,000, Ambewela 30,000, Lucky Yogurt 18,610 and Rich Life 11,030. In addition there are small scale milk foods products and the rest for private consumption. Only 33% of the country‚Äôs milk requirements are produced locally. The balance 67% is imported. During the seven years (2005-2012) after the Government came to power, total milk production has increased by 107 million litres. It is a 56% increase. The number of dairy cows has increased by 155,000. If milk can be obtained from 300,000 more cows, Sri Lanka will become self-sufficient in milk. The only obstacle to this is low-priced, imported ‚Äėmilk‚Äô powder produced by multinationals available in all parts of the country. This ‚Äėmilk‚Äô has no nutritious value compared to locally produced milk powder like Pelawatte, Highland and Kothmale. Steps already taken to import the best breeds of dairy cows from Australia and give their offspring to local farmers should be expedited. The Government should educate both adults and children to consume only local milk products for improving their health and saving valuable foreign exchange. It will usher in a bright future for our younger generation. (The writer is an environmental Journalist who could be reached at¬†