Mr. Milk­man is here

A new breed of dairy farm­ers is milk­ing the grow­ing de­mand for healthy, safe food

Down to Earth - - NEW BUSINESS - SNIGDHA DAS |

ANOTHER white revo­lu­tion is in the air. It is not like the one in the past—the one that cat­a­pulted In­dia from be­ing a milk-de­fi­cient coun­try to one of the world’s largest pro­duc­ers of milk. Yet the revo­lu­tion is be­ing fast joined by a grow­ing tribe of health-con­scious In­di­ans who want the health­i­est food on their ta­bles. Un­like the Na­tional Dairy De­vel­op­ment Board that steered the ear­lier white revo­lu­tion, en­trepreneurs and cor­po­rates are tak­ing the lead this time. More than milk, they are sell­ing an as­sur­ance: to pro­vide pure and fresh cow’s milk.

The as­sur­ance is be­guil­ing at a time when news re­ports flash in­ci­dents of milk adul­ter­ation. In 2012, the Food Safety and Stan­dards Au­thor­ity of In­dia had found that 70 per cent of the milk sold in the coun­try was tainted with ev­ery­thing from wa­ter and milk pow­der to urea, de­ter­gent and banned hor­mones used to ex­tract more milk.

“Even the pack­aged milk has its own ills. It does not spec­ify if the milk is of cow, buf­falo,goat or mixed,”says Anita Dug­gal of South Delhi who swears by the nu­tri­tive value of cow’s milk and prefers it for her chil­dren.Dug­gal’s search for pure cow milk ended a few months ago when she came across the web­site of Oleche, a start-up dairy firm that claims to pro­vide or­ganic cow milk.

Oleche is also the re­sult of a sim­i­lar search. Says Mani Agrawal, founder of the dairy, “When I re­lo­cated to In­dia in 2013 after liv­ing in US and Europe for more than two decades, I hated the taste of the pouch milk from co­op­er­a­tives.” The man­age­ment con­sul­tant then de­cided to set up his own dairy. He bought land in Ut­tar Pradesh’s Badraula vil­lage, not far­away from Delhi, and a dozen of Hol­stein Frie­sain cows. “It is the high­est-yield­ing breed avail­able in the coun­try,” says Agrawal. Since milk is a highly per­ish­able item, he set up a pas­teuri­sa­tion and pack­ag­ing unit on the farm. “We trans­port the pack­aged milk in re­frig­er­ated ve­hi­cles and de­liver it at the doorstep within 12 hours of milk­ing,” he says. Oleche sup­plies milk to 400-odd cus­tomers in Ghazi­abad, Noida and South Delhi.

From Ghazi­abad to Gur­gaon and from Mumbai to Pun­jab, a num­ber of play­ers are pro­vid­ing the pre­mium milk and are charg­ing a pre­mium for it—a litre of fresh-fromthe-farm cow milk is priced any­thing be­tween ` 60 and ` 80. By com­par­i­son, Mother Dairy milk costs ` 38-`46 a litre.

Those in­volved in the business say the high cost of the milk is be­cause of the ef­fort that goes into main­tain­ing pu­rity. “We have state-of-the-art au­to­mated milk­ing sys­tem that en­sures no hand or air con­tact. The milk is piped di­rectly from the ud­ders to the pas­teuri­sa­tion and pack­ag­ing units,” says San­jay Ag­nik of TruMilk, a dairy in Ludhiana. “The sys­tem leaves no scope for any kind of in­ter­fer­ence or adul­ter­ation,”

he adds. After win­ning over cus­tomers in Pun­jab, TruMilk has ex­panded its business to Delhi and cre­ated a cus­tomer base of 900 over the past year. “Em­bassies are our star cus­tomers,” he says.

“En­sur­ing qual­ity is not cheap,” says San­deep Subba of Sim­ply the Milk. Subba set up the dairy with a fel­low re­tired sol­dier Mahipal Singh at the lat­ter’s farm in Ba­hadur­garh, Haryana. “We have a herd of 90 Hol­stein Friesa in and jersey cows.If a cow falls sick, we quar­an­tine it till it re­cov­ers and do not milk it for another 15 to 20 days to avoid traces of medicine in the milk. While this en­sures qual­ity, we in­cur losses,” he adds.

Some go that ex­tra mile to pam­per the cows. “We feed them or­ganic feed grown on our farms, mas­sage them with mech­a­nised brushes and play sooth­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic for them,” s ays Sarika Chauhan of Sarda Farm, a ven­ture of the beedi- to-real es­tate Sarda Group.It first in­tro­duced its milk in Nashik. Within two years, it has ex­panded the business to Mumbai and Delhi. “Our happy cows pro­duce bet­ter milk,” reads its web­site.

So be­lieve peo­ple at Wholly Cow, a ven­ture of Land­mark Group, which also owns in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, real es­tate and so­lar power com­pa­nies. To gain the trust of cus­tomers, Wholly Cow has got or­ganic cer­tifi- cation for its milk and milk prod­ucts from a French cer­ti­fi­ca­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion, Eco­cert. It has also in­tro­duced the con­cept of farm tourism. “We want peo­ple to visit our farm on Sohna Road near Gur­gaon, ex­pe­ri­ence how we main­tain the cows and the farm, and then buy our prod­ucts,” says San­jay Sahni of Whol­lyCow. Sev­eral schools bring stu­dents for a tour to our farms. This is a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for them as most of them have lit­tle idea about the ori­gin of milk, he adds.

To en­tice its niche cus­tomers, Tru Milk has re­cently changed the pack­ag­ing and in­tro­duced food-grade plas­tic bot­tles. “Peo­ple th­ese days follow the Western life­style and pre­fer drink­ing di­rectly from the bot­tle,” says Ag­nik. Though its bot­tled milk is 5 costlier than pouched milk, Yag­nik claims that the sales of Tru Milk has dou­bled since the company lunched the prod­uct.

The mar­ket for farm-fresh milk is mi­nus­cule and niche. “There is a grow­ing base of con­sumers who are ask­ing for or­ganic milk, and we are yet to cater to even one per cent of them,” says Agrawal who plans to buy more cows to meet the de­mand for his milk.

While the milk sup­plied by th­ese mod­ern dairy farm­ers may be safe, the nu­tri­tion-con­scious lot should ap­ply judge­ment. Sci­en­tific stud­ies show that milk from pas- ture-fed, free-range cows con­tain more nu­tri­ents—omega-3 fatty acid, Vi­ta­min E and beta carotene—than that from farm cows that are fed ce­real ra­tions.

Will th­ese cor­po­rate dairies af­fect small farm­ers who were in­stru­men­tal in the white revo­lu­tion? A highly-placed of­fi­cial with Bi­har’s state milk co­op­er­a­tive, Sudha Dairy, does not think so. “We are not yet able to pro­vide milk to all the peo­ple in the coun­try. With more play­ers join­ing the dairy sec­tor, the coun­try’s milk pro­duc­ing ca­pac­ity will fur­ther in­crease.” The of­fi­cial, how­ever, says the gov­ern­ment should mon­i­tor if the claims made about their “pre­mium” milk are true.It should also in­tro­duce a mech­a­nism to bring about par­ity in milk pric­ing, says the of­fi­cial.

When Down To Earth in­formed Niti Singh, a milk­man from Anang­pur vil­lage in Farid­abad, about the dairy com­pa­nies, he could not be­lieve his ears. “The nu­tri­tive value of cow milk men­tioned in our holy scrip­tures are from In­dian breeds and not the for­eign ones. Cows in my vil­lage roam around the Araval­lis and eat the grass of their choice and give suf­fi­cient amount of milk.No milk­man in my vil­lage uses hor­mone to ex­tract more milk. We know they are happy just by look­ing into their eyes. Try our milk. We charge only 40 for a litre.”

Mod­ern dairy com­pa­nies em­ploy au­to­mated milk­ing sys­tem that leaves no scope for adul­ter­ation

Oleche in Ghazi­abad claims to de­liver milk within 12 hours of milk­ing

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