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4. Milk

One of our first initiatives with pastoral communities in Kachchh focused on increasing returns from milk sales. Pastoralists produced plenty of milk, but the dairies in and around Kachchh did not procure from them. We began our work to connect dairies to pastoralists, tackling the dual challenge of convincing livestock herders to sell their milk to dairies and setting up a decentralised milk procurement system that considered the dispersed grazing areas and long migratory routes of these herders.

Over 15 years, we have helped establish relations between several pastoral communities and dairies in Gujarat. This has happened with cow and buffalo herders in the Banni grassland, camel herders in Kachchh and, most recently, with sheep and goat herders in Saurashtra. Through milk-based partnerships with the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), Amul, Aadvik Foods and others, pastoral communities have seen significant improvements in the milk economy, with more sales, better prices for their milk products and increasing prices for their animals.

Cow and Buffalo Milk
Via collaborations with the government, private entities and dairies, the Banni is now one of the major milk-producing regions of the country, yielding a staggering 1,00,000 litres of mostly free-range and organic cow and buffalo milk per day. This milk is valued at more than 4 million rupees per day and close to 1.5 billion rupees annually.

Camel Milk
In 2016, in response to advocacy undertaken by Sahjeevan, KUUMS and other civil society partners, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) finally accorded safe food status to camel milk. Following this, Amul and Aadvik Foods have begun procuring camel milk. Recently, ultra-high temperature camel milk processing was successfully introduced, extending its shelf life to 6 months. Today, Sarhad Dairy procures over 6,000 litres of milk per day, from 300 herders, managing close to 8,500 camels. Over the past two years, 22 youths have returned to and invested in herding by buying animals. It is the only part of the country where the camel population is on the rise, in sharp contrast with the plummeting national numbers.

Goat Milk
Saurashtra is home to excellent goat breeds such as Kahmi, Bagri, Gohilwadi and Jhalawadi. These goats graze on a wide diversity of forage and are excellent milk producers. Unfortunately, the local dairies have not yet leveraged this resource and continue to value milk by fat percentages. Goat milk is low in fat content and thus fetches low prices, causing herders to prefer selling it to local tea shops rather than dairies. Recently, the Bharwad herders have come together to advocate for the mainstream procurement of goat milk at fixed prices. Two Bharwad youngsters have also been trained on entrepreneurship by Sahjeevan and are looking to produce and market goat milk powder and goat milk cheese.

Value-Added Dairy Products
In the absence of milk markets, pastoral communities produce a range of artisanal by-products, including ghee, cheese, mawa, peda and chaas. Such products have a longer shelf life than fresh milk, and we work to facilitate the marketing of these products. Our long-term goal is to build an ecosystem of entrepreneurs with a stake in milk by-products derived from pastoralism. We have partnered with the artisanal cheese brand, Käse Cheese, Amul and Aadvik Foods to produce a range of value-added products such as cheese, milk powders and chocolates. We also hope to work with community entrepreneurs to develop a range of pastoral cheese and ghee.

We see enormous opportunities in moving in this direction. Free-ranging pastoral animals produce milk that is largely organic. Since they feed in forest and grassland systems, they tend to consume 40-50 plants per day, producing more nutritious, better-tasting milk than animals that are stall-fed on cultivated fodder or agricultural waste. Also, the range of animals managed by pastoralists results in a wide variety of milk, each with its own unique values. Buffalo and cow milk tends to have higher fat content. Milk from goats, camels and sheep is low in fat content, making them ideal for those who are lactose intolerant. Camel milk is associated with a number of therapeutic qualities and is seen as beneficial for those with autism, diabetes and tuberculosis. Finally, this range of animal types and the different habitats they graze in ensures that there are substantial regional variations in the taste of milk.

To move towards developing a market in pastoral dairy by-products, we now collaborate with Käse, a Chennai-based artisanal cheese brand, to develop and market a variety of specialised pastoral cheese. Of particular interest to cheese-makers is the terrain that animals graze in – a key factor in shaping the terroir that influences the flavours in cheese. We currently produce cheese from sheep and goat milk in Saurashtra. We anticipate expanding this to include cheese from goat, sheep and camel herds grazed in Kachchh and in Rajasthan, with an eventual expansion into the Himalayas.