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Monday June 27th, 2022

Sri Lanka dairy farmers in trouble after buying imported milch cows

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is looking to give debt relief to farmers who have got into trouble after buying expensive imported milch cows that were not yielding as much milk as promised, amid problems with feed and care.

Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Development P Harrison told parliament said talks were underway with the ministry of finance to extend the repayment period for farmers who were in financial difficulties after getting loans to buy cows.

In 2017, about 5,000 milch cows were imported for about 3,031 US dollars each or a total of 2,317 million US dollars, and given at a subsidised price to private farmers at 200,000 rupees each.

Opposition legislator Dayasiri Jayasekera, who represents the Kurunegala district said some farmers were getting only 7 to 8 litres from the imported milch cows though 20 to 25 litres were promised.

Many cows had died, he said, questioning whether quarantine procedures had been followed.

State banks who had given credit were left with bad loans as animals died or milch yields fell.

Minister Harrison said 406 cows had died from 2015 July to date.

Jayasekera questioned whether the government would seek compensation from the foreign firm that supplied the cows.

Minister Harrison said the agreement with the foreign company was signed in 2014 by then minister Basil Rajapaksa to import 20,000 milch cows. There was a large penalty to be paid if the contract is broken, he said.

Minister Harrison said farmers had problems getting good quality feed but some of the larger farms were getting the expected milk yield.

A farm operated by Lakshaman Wasantha Perera in the Matale district, who was once a minister was getting the yield. Watawala Plantations was also getting 20 to 25 litres from a cow from imported cows, he said.

Legislators questioned how it was that a minister’s cow was giving more milk while the cows of ordinary farmers were dying.

Sri Lanka signed a deal for the supply of 20,000 milch cows with Wellard Wellard Rural Export Pvt. Ltd. Reports said the firm also sourced cattle from New Zealand.

It was not mentioned in parliament whether the cattle with problems were from different breeds or stock, sourced from varying agro climatic regions.

Milk yields fall due to lower quality feed and also stress including heat stress, requiring high levels of care.

Some animal husbandry experts have said that even so-called batu-harak (a hardy domestic cow of indeterminate breed) would produce higher levels of milk if feed could be improved and stress could be reduced with gentler care so that the cows are happy.

Even the habit of some farmers in Sri Lanka to throw the remaining water in a bucket at a cow, which startles them and make them jump, reduces milk yields, experts said.

Sri Lanka has been trying to boost domestic milk output partly to ‘save foreign exchange’ and reduce dairy imports.

Sri Lanka runs into foreign exchange problems due to money printing by the Central Bank, which operates a pegged exchange rate regime. (Colombo/Mar18/2019-SB)

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