Marginal ranchers are in trouble as they have to sell milk at prices lower than their production costs. Though there are several mill processing companies in the country, it is learned that many ranchers cannot sell milk to them.
On the other hand, 37 percent of the country's total demand is met through imports of milk.
These facts were revealed at a discussion, styled "Government and non-government policies and services in thriving marginal milk ranchers," at Brac Centre Inn in the capital on Wednesday. Bangladesh Dairy Development Forum and Oxfam jointly organised the discussion.
Ranchers from Dimla in Nilphamari and Raumari in Gaibandha said no company buys milk in their areas. In consequence, they have to sell their products locally at prices between Tk30 and Tk35 per litre, which is less than their production costs. Cattle feed, medicines and other necessary items for farming are costly at present.
Amena Khatun from Raumari said, "No company goes to our remote shoal areas to buy milk and that is why around 600 ranchers cannot sell their milk at a fair price."
In separate presentations, Oxfam and BDDF highlighted the difficulties faced by ranchers. They include ranchers' lack of training and knowledge of technology, less productivity, lack of specialised studies and regulatory authorities.
They added if the government paid attention to this sector, Bangladesh would be self-sufficient in milk production by 2025. At present, the availability of milk per person is 165 millilitres against the requirement of 250 millilitres per day.
Aftab Uddin Sarker, parliament member from Nilphari-1, said, "More than 19,000 litres of milk are produced daily just at Dimla in my electoral constituency. It is 40km away from Nilphamari district headquarters."
No company goes there to buy milk and there is no chilling centre in the area, he added. "Milk has now become a burden for ranchers."
Brac Dairy Director Anisur Rahman said, "Companies can collect just 6-7 percent of the milk produced by ranchers. Most ranches in the country have been developed in small sizes due to shortage of land. Companies can collect milk only from the areas that have better communication facilities."
He added, "We have to spend Tk42 for collection, carrying and chilling a litre of milk. The cost rises to Tk400 per kg when it is converted to power, whereas, a kg of imported powdered milk costs just Tk330."
Meanwhile, representatives of milk processing companies said the industry has been squeezed by 20 percent due to last year's "false propaganda" that pasteurized milk of all local brands contained harmful bacteria.
Mustafizur Rahman, deputy general manager of Milk Vita, demanded raising the import duty on powder milk. "Otherwise, local companies will not be able to bounce back and it will affect marginal ranchers," he added.
On the other hand, FH Ansary, managing director of ACI Agro Link Limited, said restrictions on import before being self-sufficient in milk production would yield a counter-effect.
Citing the example of India, he said the dairy industry has been profitable there despite restrictions on the sale of cows.
"In Bangladesh, farmers have the scope to profit from both milk and cattle," Ansary added.
The speakers also stressed the need for producing biogas and natural fertilizer from cow dung, which would lead to an increase in profit for farmers.
Kazi Wasi Uddin, additional sectary at the livestock and fisheries ministry, suggested that farmers give grass to their cattle instead of feed bought from the market. It will help them bring down their production costs.
The State Minister for Livestock and Fisheries, Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru, said, "A crisis opens up opportunities. The country's milk production has increased four-fold in the last one decade. Now we have to ensure fair prices for both producers and consumers."
He said the government will build 35 chilling centres for farmers in different areas.