Sri Lanka, although a country better known for its agricultural and livestock resources, has to spend a great deal of money for importing milk.
It spent over Rs.13 billion for milk importation in 2006. The amount is bound to increase by leaps and bounds if the country does not expand and upgrade its dairy industry.
In the circumstances, international non- governmental organizations (INGOs) operating in Sri Lanka have come forward to assist the industry to realise its full potential.
With this aim in view, the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), a United States based non-profit organization, has put into operation a US $ 4 million project to clear 450,000 sq.m. of mined land in N-E Sri Lanka by the end of 2008 to kick off rejuvenating the dairy industry.
According to HDI Country Director Ms Jeanne Samuel, the Jaffna peninsula is an high potential area for dairy production should the land be demined.
"Sri Lankan dairy farming sector contributes marginally to the national economy, with domestic milk production estimated to meet less than 20 percent of the country’s needs. It is predominantly in the hands of small-scale farmers.
Sri Lanka spends approximately US $110 million annually to import milk powder. The consumption of milk products per head in Sri Lanka has more than doubled in the last 15 years, growing from an average of 10 litres to over 22 litres per year.
"The Jaffna peninsula has sufficient land that could profitably be harnessed to the dairy and livestock industry. At present, that is impossible for much of the land area is littered with landmines," lamented Ms Samuel.
The HDI began a landmine clearance and agricultural development project in Sri Lanka in 2006. The two-year project in the Jaffna peninsula has two interdependent components: Landmine clearance of dairy farmland and dairy and livestock systems development. Money was allocated through the United States Department of Agriculture for the project.
Milk production in the Jaffna district decreased by 66 percent between 1989 and 2003 mainly due to the armed conflict and the resultant land mining.
The dairy and livestock sector in the Jaffna peninsula has gone untapped and thereby unable to generate an increase in household incomes and improve the livelihoods of rural families, which could easily be done, pointed out HDI sources.
"The small farmers are in great need of skills training, farm management orientation and access to market linkages," said the sources.
The target audience for HDI’s initiative is approximately 2,000 small farmers living in the Jaffna peninsula where dairy and livestock production holds high potential.
"The Tamil-Hindu population in Jaffna is eager to get involved in dairy farming because working with cows is symbolic of spiritual significance to them," said HDI sources.
The HDI believes many farmers in Jaffna who grow cash crops could turn easily to dairy farming, which is more profitable in the long term. It is confident its programme would especially benefit the women of Jaffna, who traditionally are the primary caretakers of livestock.
The first phase of HDI’s project is currently underway. HDI and its partners are surveying and clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) from farmlands and opening access roads to more than 600,000 sq.m. of valuable land currently rendered unusable due to the presence of landmines.
The cleared land will then be used for dairy and livestock systems development. The project will include introducing dairy and livestock production as a business to small farmers, mobilizing private sector funding in dairy and livestock business, services and infrastructure and developing market outlets with hotels, restaurants and institutions that ensure long-term sustainability for milk products produced and processed by small farmers, farmer groups and small agribusinesses.
The HDI predicts that by the end of the project, 2,000 farmers will be able to safely use over 600,000 sq.m. of currently mined land for dairy farming and see their income increase by at least 50 per cent.
It also hopes to triple the quantity of fresh milk production which will encourage the development of the private sector in the dairy industry.