Sahjeevan has spent more than a decade working to enhance household returns from the sale of milk in the Kutch region in Gujarat. These efforts have been premised on (i) meeting technological bottlenecks such as the absence of bulk chillers; (ii) mobilizing communities to deliver milk to these chillers; (iii) building institutional mechanisms to ensure fair and transparent payments for pastoral produce; and (iv) working with mainstream dairies to market milk and milk-derived products.
Their dedicated interventions in the area have contributed to multiple positive outcomes.
Currently, Maldhari pastoralists of the Banni grasslands in Kutch produce 100,000 litres of buffalo milk a day, generating an annual turnover of over Rs. 125 crores. Milk prices have tripled over this period and the number of animals has more than doubled.
The formalised milk economy of the Kutch district stands at close to Rs. 500 crores, with milk being transported daily to processing facilities. It is this milk which is then delivered throughout the country. Significantly, these animals in Kutch are often sourced from Banni Maldharis, which represents a direct link to the Maldhari production system.
Sahjeevan is also working with Amul Dairy to start camel milk procurement with a considerable quantity of camel milk now being collected in Kutch each month. During this period, prices received by camel herders for their milk has already doubled, and in some instances, even tripled. The increasing lucrativeness of camel herding shines through the fact that twenty two young herders have now given up employment as taxi and truck drivers and returned to camel herding. They are beginning to buy camels as this is now seen as a viable investment opportunity. This re-stocking of depleted animal herds shows a potential route by which the decline in India’s camel population may be reversed while also building potentially meaningful employment for the community.
The Gujarat government has committed to investing approximately Rs. 3 crores towards setting up the necessary infrastructure for expanded procurement of camel milk from Rabari herders. Sahjeevan is partnering with the government and with state and private diaries towards taking this to its logical conclusion. Over a three-year period, this will require community mobilizing, the setting up of test pilots, putting in place transparent systems of payment for milk procured from herders and so on.
Besides camel milk, Amul has recently agreed to also explore the collection of goat milk from Rabari goat herders in Kutch. This will be sold as both liquid milk and goat cheese, and serve as a pilot for building similar value chains in other parts of the country. Sahjeevan’s role will, once again, revolve around mobilizing the community, putting systems in place to ensure that goat milk is not diluted with either water or cow milk, and ensuring fair and transparent compensation to the herders. The Centre for Pastoralism is also collaborating with Kase Cheese to initiate the production and marketing of a line of pastoral cheeses, made from camel, goat and sheep milk.