Tim Ørting Jørgensen, former executive vice-president and chief commercial officer of Arla Foods International said: “When you create stronger wealth and middle-class economy, you just increase your dairy consumption. Then you move from powders to liquid to yogurts to cheese to whatever.” It is natural for a person with deep insight like him to work with such a vision. He stated the above two years ago while discussing his desire to work in the dairy sector in Bangladesh. According reliable sources Pran and Arla Foods have recently started working together. Arla is a well-known Europe-based company that deals with dairy products. They are initially conducting a study on dairy farming, milk production and collection processing in Rangpur. But why in Rangpur?
The obvious answer is that Rangpur milk is both tasty and inexpensive. Rangpur also produces a huge amount of milk per day. It can open the door to new possibilities. Perhaps Arla wishes to take advantage of this opportunity. Pran also collects milk from Rangpur. We need to figure out whether there is another reason behind Arla's interest in Rangpur. When an international company wants to work with the dairy industry in Bangladesh, it means that they find no risk in investing in the economy of this country and they will benefit as a result. This signifies that Bangladesh has the capacity to progress forward on the development route, and the country is currently a high-end one with an increasingly powerful economy. This issue is being positively seen and observed carefully by many others.
If this is carried out properly, the dairy sector will make a considerable contribution to the country's economy. Rangpur's involvement in this will play an important role in the development of this area. Arla intends to instruct farmers and milk collectors on how to enhance milk production based on the findings of its research. They also want to focus on farm management practices, cow feed, and local milk collection. If the work is done properly, the desired result will be remarkable.
For the last 12 years, the practice of raising cows at home in Rangpur has been observed, which has helped bring self-sufficiency to the families involved. Rangpur District Livestock Officer Dr. Md. Sirajul Haque stated that in the fiscal year 2014-15, there were 10 lakh 32 thousand cows in Rangpur. In the fiscal year 2020-21, there were 13 lakh 77 thousand nine hundred twenty seven cows. There are one thousand nine hundred twenty three dairy farms in the district. Every day, 770 metric tonnes of milk is collected. Milkvita, Arang, Pran, and Rangpur Dairy and Food Products are four companies that collect milk directly from cattle farmers in Rangpur.
Cows are reared in almost every house in Rangpur's rural and char regions, and almost everyone sells milk. The price of milk here is lower than other places in the country. Milk costs 60 taka a liter in the city, 50 taka in the suburbs, and 35-36 taka in remote areas. Observers believe that it is unfair to have such low prices in the village because the residents of the community rely on the business. Many of them make a living by selling milk. Another important factor is that there is no shortage of milk in Rangpur. People consume the amount of milk that is produced.
According to experts, there is no alternative for grass for cow's milk quantity, or decent meat. Grass grows well during the rainy season. However, the grass dries up or dies throughout the winter. Then there is a mechanism in place so that the cows may consume the grass in the dry season. Cows will not be able to produce enough milk if they do not have access to grass. So the cows were given silage during the winter. It is possible to make silage at home.
Silage is made during the rainy season. Fresh grass must be cut into small pieces at that time. Then farmers dig a hole in the earth and secure it with cement. The area must be cleaned, and the chopped grass must be added to it after sprinkling molasses (nalen gur) on it. They then fill the hole with one layer of grass and the next layer with molasses. Then they have to wrap it tightly with polythene on top. The grass produced in this manner is known as silage. The grass remains fresh, and the quality is preserved. Cows prefer silage as because of the presence of molasses and it also has a higher nutritious value. Feeding silage to cows boosts milk production and improves milk quality. Beef is also tasty when the cows are fed grass or silage. Moreover, there is also higher quality grass, which increases the amount and nutritious value of cow's milk. The government has recently approved the import of high quality seeds.
Experts believe that the reason cows in Rangpur produce good quality milk is because the farmers take good care of them and feed them appropriately. The cows are fed a lot of grass here. Rangpur's soil is suitable for growing grass. Cows in this area are usually fed Napier grass. They also feed hybrid grasses such as para, jumbo, and others. Farmers here raise better breeds of cattle. They, in particular, like the Friesians, an Australian cow breed. Furthermore, Shahiwal and Jersey breeds produce high-quality milk. Many people favour cross-bred cows. They also produce high-quality milk.
There are several large dairy farms in Rangpur. Ion Group and Paragon Farm in Gangachara are two of them. Ion Group launched the country's first high-tech dairy farm in Badarganj, Rangpur, in January 2021. These farms import Friesian cows directly from Australia. In addition, cows are reared in virtually every house in Kashimpur village in Mithipur union of Pirganj. This work involves small business owners, underprivileged individuals, jobless youth, and women are involved in this work. Kashimpur village's economic picture has transformed as a result of their dairy farming. There the people of the entire village are devoting time to the breeding of cows. Women are always busy cutting straw and grass. The men do other related work.
Cows are fed granular food in addition to grass and silage. Crushed maize, khail, di-calcium phosphate, wheat bran, pulses (daal), and other foods are utilized for this purpose. Many times, the prices of these essential ingredients rise, causing farmers to suffer. There are unscrupulous traders in the market who create artificial crisis of cattle feed. Soybeans are an important ingredient in poultry, fishery and cow feed. However, its price rises frequently. The Bangladesh Dairy Farmers Association (BDFA) held a press conference at the press club in September 2021 to limit soybean exports, halt price rises in soybeans, and prevent an artificial crisis in the domestic market. They warned that they would close their farms if prices continued to rise at this rate.
Occasionally the prices of khail (mustard cake), pulses and wheat bran also go up.
According to BBS data, Bangladesh spent Tk 2.712 crore on imported powdered milk and dairy products in the fiscal year 2018-19. Therefore, it is clear that there is a high demand in the nation for a variety of dairy products, including powdered milk. If powdered milk can be produced in the country by breeding and nurturing high-quality cows, the country will gain greatly. Rangpur is an ideal location for this.
However, despite the fact that Rangpur produces a significant volume of milk, there is practically no facility to store it. The four firms that purchase milk utilize them anyway they see fit. Those who sell milk at retail, on the other hand, are sometimes in danger. If there is a blockage or a transit strike, they are at jeopardy. During a nationwide blockade in 2014-15, due to lack of milk storage facilities, farmers were unable to deliver milk to Dhaka and instead dumped it on the streets. If such an issue arises, now they prepare curd, lamb, ghee, ice cream, buttermilk etc. from the milk. Nonetheless, it is evident that the issue of milk preservation must be given due priority.
Rangpur has the environment and adequate milk for there to be a powdered milk factory in the district. Labour is inexpensive here, and there are many impoverished people. They may readily be put to work if there is a powdered milk factory in the region. Cattle farmers will benefit if the government ceases exporting soymeal. The pricing of various cow feed components must be kept within the farmers' purchasing capacity. Otherwise, retail cattle ranchers will be unable to operate their businesses. Whether a factory is established or not, a milk processing plant is required to store milk.
The fact Arla Foods International has made some factual and information-rich remarks on the dairy business in Bangladesh suggests that Arla is planning something. So, do they have plans to build a powdered milk plant of international renown here? If anything like this comes to pass, Rangpur, which had been previously neglected, will propel the country forward.
The writer is a columnist. She can be contacted at [email protected]