Milk and milk products make up a large part of the most nourishing foods available to millions of poor people. This is especially true for areas that are remote, far flung and impacted by unrest and conflict. However, milk quality and milk safety continue to be a major concern for governments and consumers alike. The milk market in Assam is dominated by informal and unorganised milk market actors, comprising of producers, vendors, sweet makers and cottage processors. Together they handle 97% of the total milk market but majority are neither formally recognised nor integrated in the milk value chain.
Training and capacity building have had a major role to play in the dairy sector. From traditional methods of livestock and dairy management to more technology intensive processes, the scenario has been changing globally. India is the country where the White Revolution of milk was initiated with Operation Flood, launched in 1970 as a project of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). Responding to this movement by making dairy farming in India the largest self sustainable employment generator in addition to making the country self sufficient in milk, the dairy sector has been receptive to innovative and replicable strategies for improving productivity of milk and milk products.
In the state of Assam, the milk market has predominantly comprised of the informal and unorganised milk actors, namely, producers, vendors, sweet makers and cottage processors. In the mid 2000s, researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) trained smallholder dairy producers in Guwahati, Assam to increase milk production through improved methods and practices. These included methods and techniques of handling milk, for better distribution to traders and vendors. The larger goals of this exercise were to generate greater consumer satisfaction and better community health.
The initiative: Educating and skilling informal milk traders in production and sale of clean milk
The trainings were part of a project on “Improvement of the traditional dairy value chains in Assam”, partly funded by the UK Department for International Development’s Research-into-Use programme. They were focused on increasing demand for locally produced, good-quality milk in Assam and the capacity to supply it. Project members were supporting agents involved in the entire peri-urban traditional dairy value chain, from production, to distribution to sale of safe, high-quality milk and dairy products.
Through the trainings, as many as 356 traders were reached. Each of them collected and sold milk on the outskirts of Guwahati. Each training course had five modules which were delivered in 12 batches through October 2010. Led by the Directorate of Dairy Development in Assam, the training programme was supported by the Assam Agricultural Competitiveness Project under an initiative of the Joint Coordination & Monitoring Committee. It brought together organisations such as Dairy Development, the Veterinary Department, the public health departments in Assam, the Guwahati Municipal Corporation, the Assam Rural Infrastructure & Agricultural Services Society, and ILRI.
The training used a training manual that was specially designed by ILRI scientists with the help of local partners to address needs of farmers in the region. The objective of the trainings was to educate and skill up relatively informal milk traders in the production and sale of clean milk and milk products. These trainings built on the initial distribution for milk traders and vendors. Participants were trained on causes of milk spoilage and disease; hygienic milk handling and transportation; conducting tests for milk quality; and ensuring milk containers are used in all processes of milk handling and are sanitised. The benefits of this training were many, including cleaner, hygienically handled, milk, but also more milk sales, greater customer satisfaction and improved community health.
Results of the impact assessment
Increase in dairy productivity was reported in an impact assessment carried out by a team of research students. The training programme for 356 dairy producers was conducted in 2013 as part of the GET Dairy project. The project which was for “assessing the health risk in informal value chain, pilot-testing risk communication and risk management interventions and generating evidence for replication in Assam” assessed and addressed health risks associated with the informal value chains in Assam. Findings of the impact assessment:
• Dairy producers who were trained showed better results, compared with those who were untrained. Also, those who joined the training programme showed an increase in productivity/milk yield by 11.7%.
• Subclinical mastitis in their cows was reduced through improved knowledge, attitude and practice. Further, demand for milk from the trained group of dairy producers increased, leading to improved livelihoods.
• Trader needs were identified after a baseline survey conducted by ILRI showed that most of the traders had lost potential customers as a result of selling inferior milk due to not following proper milk handling procedures.
• The training provided dealers with information on milk prices and good business practices. This information motivated them to improve quality of the milk they supplied to their customers.
• The training helped farmers increase their milk sales, getting them higher prices, reducing their losses from spoilage and protected their health and that of their families.
• The enhanced performance translated into their gaining greater approval for their businesses as well as creating new opportunities.
Small-scale traders in ‘clean milk’ strengthen the milk value chain in urban India [Internet] 2010 Aug 16 [cited 2015 Oct 12]. Available from: http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/tag/assam-directorate-of-dairy-development
Comprehensive Study of the Assam Dairy Sector: Action Plan for Pro-Poor Dairy Development, India: International Livestock Research Institute (India) [Internet]. 2007 [cited 2015 Oct 13]. Available from: https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/67085/Comprehensive%20study%20of%20Assam%20dairy%20sector.pdf?sequence=1