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Sunday, 22 July 2012

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Eastern Province to boost livestock industry growth

Being marginalised nearly for the past three decades due to threats of terrorism, most of the farmers of the East were adopting a survival strategy 'Invest less and hope for the best'. The affected livestock industry would have been the second worst devastated field in the Eastern Province apart from agriculture.

Throughout the history, the country's largest herds of cattle and buffaloes were reported from the dry and dry intermediate zones. The dry zone covers the Eastern and the North Central provinces. The Eastern Province covering Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara Districts has a huge potential for development of dairy industry. Goat production is a traditional form of livestock production among farmers especially in the dry zone. About 75 p.c. of goat population is located in the dry and intermediate zones in Sri Lanka and is practised as an extensive production system. Goat milk is becoming popular for its health benefits and, rearing dairy goats under intensive management is therefore getting popular in recent times.

During the conflict, the dairy industry which had been flourishing in the region was seriously affected as other economic sectors. Livestock has long been a major component of the economy of the Eastern Province. This potential growth sector has been recognised as a key sector playing a vital role in poverty alleviation, improving nutritional status of the populace, mitigating urban-rural gaps, resolving gender issues by more work opportunities for women, improvement of soil fertility and contributing to the GDP of the province. Livestock sector is regarded by the Government as a priority sector in its development program.

This year the Government through the 'Divi Neguma' program of the Economic Development Ministry allocates Rs. 1,117 million to promote livestock and fisheries sectors of the country, according to the Rural Economic Development Division of the Ministry. With peace returning to the East, the livestock industry re-entered the villages with backyard poultry introduced through the 'Divi Neguma' Program. Today the Government's plan is to develop livestock sector of the Eastern Province into a Small and Medium Scale Enterprise.

According to the Ministry of Livestock and Rural Community Development, there are 19 veterinary offices in Ampara district, 14 in Batticaloa and 11 in Trincomalee. Statistics provided by the Eastern Provincial Council states that the Province has around 30 percent of the national cattle and buffalo population. The availability of natural grasslands, rice fallows and possibility of getting feed ingredients such as maize, rice bran, and various crop micro products and an active labour force provide a favourable resource-base for livestock development in the province.

A fascinating rise in milk production and cash incomes are now evident to position Eastern Province as the second best province next only to the Central Province, for fresh milk production in the island. The opening of the milk markets, collection routes, transport, free land for grazing along with the herding of lost and abandoned cattle are of significance to enhance the dairy value chain in the Eastern Province.

The government policy on dairy development is aimed at producing 50 p.c. of the country's requirement of milk by the year 2015. Priority is therefore given for the dairy development in public sector investment programs and several incentives offered to the private sector to engage in dairy sector. As per the currently available statistics, the domestic milk production only constitutes about 17 percent of the requirement and the rest is imported. On an average the import bill on dairy commodities had been around 15 billion rupees. The government attention is mostly focused on the dairy sub sector to develop this sector into a 'local industry'.

Limited access to grazing lands, lack of grazing during both wet and dry seasons, shortage of drinking water during the dry period and prevailing competition with other socio economic activities for land and water, together with environmental concerns demand more sustainable smaller but efficient dairy herd operations. Transparency is the biggest problem in milk marketing in Sri Lanka and farmers have all the rights to know the criteria, technical standards on which milk payments are being made at milk bulking centres. In most areas milk is collected once a day - mostly in the morning. Absence of proper cool chain maintaining system spoils the milk if kept overnight. Depending on the climatic conditions and regional weather, the milk collection fluctuates rapidly.

Completed in mid 2012, a Dairy Enhancement Program coordinated through the Economic Development Ministry was targeting the development of the livestock sector in the Eastern Province.

"Though the project is completed the established network of farmers will be continued and expanded with the new developments taking place in the Eastern Province under the Divi Neguma Program," said Sagarika Sumanasekara, Veterinary Surgeon attached to the Rural Economy Development Division of the Ministry who was mainly in charge of coordinating the Dairy Enhancement Program from the Ministry.

The project was implemented in close coordination with Vet Surgeons and Livestock Development Instructors working in the divisional level attached to the Ministry of Livestock Development.

The Provincial Ministries of Agriculture, Animal Production and Health are responsible for the local implementation of livestock development projects.

The project developed nearly 3,000 small scale dairy farmers. Nearly half of them were women. Farmers are given a thorough training on dairy industry and they are formed into milk producer groups.

Farmers were given technical training to convert existing traditional dairy management practices with new concepts and technologies to enhance their dairy production which is designed to help farmers improve their income. They are linked to the veterinaries of the Department of Animal Production and Health.

Medium scale milk collection centres were constructed, each receiving milk from these producer groups. This provides opportunities for extension services, feed inputs and pharmacy stores and training facilities for participating farmers. Milk collection centres are owned and operated by the milk producing groups.

This comprehensive approach ensured the traditional farmer in the dairy industry that the sustainability of these efforts towards economic development and empowering the farmers improve their incomes and better provide for their families.

In addition, the new Divi Neguma program plans to incorporate nearly 500 farmers into the industry from the Eastern Province. Recently the Uppuweli farm of the Department of Animal Production and Health received a state-of-the-art poultry hatchery at a cost of Rs. five million.

This was with the intention of promoting backyard poultry under the Divi Neguma program.

The five-year development plan under the Eastern Provincial Council envisages an annual growth rate of 10 percent in the livestock sector. To achieve this target, three main thrust areas are identified - i.e., enhancing production and productivity of livestock, promoting farmer empowerment and skills development and improving livestock marketing and value addition. The development program includes increasing supply of breeding stock such as cross bred heifer calves (cattle) and goats, day old broiler and layer chicks as well as promoting back yard poultry-keeping.

It also has prioritised the need to increase availability of animal feed, improving veterinary services, promoting collective action among livestock farmers, strengthening entrepreneurial skills of stakeholders. Improving livestock marketing and promoting, processing and value addition of livestock products.

The labour intensive nature of many livestock operations, under Sri Lanka conditions, can therefore be effectively harnessed for rural employment creation, livelihood improvement and poverty alleviation initiatives. Government plans to facilitate the transformation of the present subsistence level of dairy production into a viable commercially oriented activity. Developing the livestock sector is a necessary condition for ensuring the food security in the country.

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