Bhagirath Burunge from Sinnar, Nasik owns 4 cows. Each one gives 5 to 7 litres of milk per day. Bhagirath sells a minimum of 20 litres of cow milk every day. He sells it to a local cooperative dairy, which is later sold to the district dairy. Bhagirath expects at least Rs 34 per litre but gets only Rs 29.
This is happening although rates of milk are increasing in the retail market as well as in the powder industry too. But Bhagirath, the principal source of the milk industry, is struggling to get his share out of total hiked prices.
The dairy industry has been witnessing a price hike in the last two months. This comes after a slack of two years when milk powder rates were down to Rs 180 per kg. During this time, dairies have reduced milk buying rates to Rs 18 to 20 per litre. Before lockdown, farmers were getting Rs 30 to 32 per litre of cow milk. In contrast, the international market is so high right now that milk powder is getting a rate of Rs 300 to 325 per kg. But, dairies are not sharing this price with farmers.
"Big dairies bought milk in bulk during lockdown time with minimum rates. They made powder out of it. Today as prices are higher, dairies are selling the same powder in the market. But, they are not ready to hike the rate of milk," said Ajit Nawale, general secretary Maharashtra of All India Kisan Sabha.
Milk Production Farmers Struggle Committee led by Nawale, raised this issue multiple times with the State government. They had a meeting with dairy minister Sunil Kedar and senior-most officials of the dairy department. But every time the government just listened to the grievances but did nothing.
"Looking at the current rates, we demand increasing cow milk rates to Rs 42 per litre. It will compensate farmers for the last two years' losses. We have made this demand by writing a letter to the Chief Minister and all other senior leaders of the government," Nawale says, adding that "If the government continues ignoring our demand, milk-producing farmers will hit the street."
According to research done by the Rahuri Agriculture University, the production cost of per litre cow milk is Rs 28. So, farmers were at a total loss when they sold milk during the lockdown. The State government has the right to intervene in milk rates if farmers are getting significantly lower prices. When the market collapses, dairies reduce rates immediately. But when the market is now up these days, a similar urgency to increase price is shown.
As per the dairy development department of Maharashtra, the state's daily milk collection is approximately 120 lakh metric tonnes today. Maharashtra is the second largest milk-producing state after Uttar Pradesh. Around 47 lakh farmers' families are dependent on the milk business. As milk payment comes every week, this cash-rich business helps farmers complete their daily needs. The fall in milk rates thus hurts farmers' daily demands immediately.
Samyukta Kisan Morcha is already in the process of raising nationwide protests for FRP (fair and remunerative price) of milk. Recently, AIKS has taken the lead and held a meeting with other members of Sanyukta Kisan Morcha in Kerala. In Maharashtra, the milk-producing farmers' struggle committee had discussed the issue with Kedar on June 25, 2021. But, nothing has been processed since then. The FRP to milk would bring structural reform in the business where farmers will have legal protection.