GUWAHATI: Problems in procuring and selling milk have impacted milk cooperatives, farms and individual producers severely across Assam during the ongoing 40-day lockdown period, though distribution and sale of milk are exempted from restrictions during this period, sources in the dairy sector said.
It has also become difficult to arrange fodder as most of the trucks carrying feed for livestock have stopped plying since the 21-day lockdown was announced on March 24, and then extended till May 3 to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Organised cooperatives and individual dairy farmers have laid off employees to cut the cost due to drastic fall in sales and at times threw away milk on roads and rivers as they could not sell it due to lack of transportation and closure of markets.
Sitajakhala Milk Cooperative Society chairman Ranjib Sarma told PTI, "The lockdown has affected the operations of the cooperative in multiple ways.
"Our daily procurement at this time of the year is between 17,000 litres and 18,000 litres. But now, we are procuring around 10,000 litres of milk per day."
The Sitajakhala Milk Cooperative Sciety, one of the oldest and largest dairy cooperatives of Assam located in Morigaon district, is able to process and market an average of 7,000 litres of milk daily out of the procured raw material now, he said.
Initially there was confusion about the services exempted from lockdown restrictions with the information from the Centre not percolating to the local level, thereby affecting procurement and sale of milk, Sarma said.
"Another problem we are facing is the fear psychosis among villagers, who are trying to restrict entry of people from the cooperative or other villages. This is creating difficulty in movement of traffic which has affected distribution of fodder and milk," he said.
Since most of the fodder comes from outside the state, its supply has completely stopped after the lockdown came into force, though efforts are being made to get the necessary permission for movement of vehicles carrying such goods, he said.
"Usually our inventory of such raw materials is for about 15 days. It has already gone down and may lead to closure of our operations till the lockdown is lifted, if the feed does not arrive," Sarma said.
The price of milk has been reduced to Rs 50 a litre from Rs 54 for disposal of its daily production, he said.
"We have also entered into a joint venture with the Directorate of Dairy Development, Government of Assam for uninterrupted supply of milk to Guwahati.
The cooperative has also undertaken door-to-door distribution of its products on request from consumers," he added.
Partner of Kamrup-based small dairy initiative, East Valley Agro Ventures, Anjan Phukan, said that the firm's daily milk production has gone down to 50 litres from 120 litres on a normal day, mostly due to lack of feed.
"As milk distribution has become a major problem in the lockdown, we are making paneer from the milk and selling it in nearby villages.
However, villagers do not prefer buying paneer as fish and poultry are abundant," he added.
The daily sale of East Valley Agro Ventures has fallen to Rs 1,500 from Rs 6,000 earlier, forcing the firm to retain only two employees out of four, he said.
Phukan, who had left a swanky corporate job in an MNC in Bangalore and returned to Assam two years ago to be an entrepreneur, had taken a "huge loan" to begin the start-up dairy venture.
"We are not even getting the operational cost. The three-month moratorium on EMIs announced by the RBI will not solve any problem. Unless the government helps us with some grants, we won't survive. Unfortunately, small industries like us never get the attention," he added.
The government-controlled Barapeta Cattle Farm in Barpeta district is also no different from others with daily production going down to less than 80 litres from 130 litres a few weeks back due to insufficient supply of fodder.
"Even for this amount of produce, we are having problems in dispatching the milk. We were supplying milk to markets in Barpeta and Barpeta Road. Now we are not able to do so due to the lockdown," Barapeta Cattle Farm manager Sunil Sarma said.
The firm, which has 125 cattle, nowadays supplies around 40 litres of milk to the nearby SSB camp, while the rest is distributed free of cost among the poor and the staff within the campus, he informed.
Tapan Roy, a milk vendor from Hailakandi district in Barak valley, rued that police did not allow him to sell milk during the initial five days of the lockdown following which he incurred a huge loss, but now a pass has been issued to him.
"I have seven cows and collect around 50 litres, but now it is around 30 litres. I am not able to provide fodder to them due to lockdown. My main problem is the scarcity of fodder. This is my only source of earning," he added.
Tezpur-based dairy farmer Punya Upaddhay sought government help to mitigate a daily loss of 500 litres being faced by his society -- Tezpur Grazing Somobai Dairy Ltd.
"We have around 400 cows and 300 buffalos. We are suffering due to the absence of fodder for production of milk. This has led to reducing the staff to four from the earlier 15 as we are unable to pay them," he said.