National Milk Day: From Cows To The Cloud, Dairy Development In India Harnesses High Tech To Retain Global Pole Position

by Anand Parthasarathy - Nov 26, 2022 03:18 PM +05:30 IST
National Milk Day: From Cows To The Cloud, Dairy Development In India Harnesses High Tech To Retain Global Pole PositionMilkMahaan of India: Over the decades the iconic Amul Girl of the company's print advertisements has unfailingly saluted its founder on his birth/death anniversaries with tributes and signature pun-ning captions.
Snapshot
  • India’s White Revolution dates back to the formation of the Kaira Milk Producers Union in the 1950s – and since 1997 the nation is the world’s biggest milk producer.

    New technologies – from ‘Connected Cows’ to  Robotic milking to herd monitoring by drone – are driving a steady 15 per cent growth in the domestic milk market.

The central government's Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying celebrates 26 November every year as “National Milk Day” to commemorate the birthday of Dr Verghese Kurien.

Dr Kurien is known as “Father of the White Revolution in India”,  or less formally as India’s doodhwala or Milk Man. 

This year on his 101 birth anniversary, the official observance is part of  “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” and is being held in Karnataka state, where the government of India joins the National Dairy Development Board and the Karnataka Milk Federation to organise the event. 

Union Minister of State for Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan is virtually “laying” the foundation stone of an advanced training facility at the Central Frozen Semen Production and Training Institute and launch in vitro fertilisation activities at the Central Cattle Breeding Farm Hessarghatta, Bengaluru.

The annual Gopal Ratna Awards for achievements in the livestock and dairy sector are also being announced today.

Apart from the ritual observance, 2022 is a turning point of sorts in the long history of the dairy business in India, ever since Dr Kurien helped establish the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union – popularly known by its subsequent brand name Amul – in Anand, Gujarat in 1950.

Speaking during September this year at the World Dairy Summit 2022, Amul Managing Director RS Sodhi, said India’s milk production – 210 million tonnes in 2021--is expected to jump three-fold in the next 25 years at an annual growth rate of 4.5 per cent to reach 628 million tonnes. 

This would make India's share of global milk production 45 per cent from the present 23 per cent.

India has been the world’s largest producer of milk since 1997, when it overtook the US.

It has emerged as one of the crucial and consistently well-performing sectors of the economy contributing just under 5 per cent to the GDP and providing employment to over 80 million rural households, who tend 300 million bovines.

The milk market in India is growing at a steady 15-16 per cent every year, thanks to new dairy technologies, improved logistics and supply chains. 

The government announced a $2.1 billion infrastructure development fund  and interest subsidies, in June 2020 to promote  private sector  investments. 

The results have been quick and fast: The largest independent dairy supply chain technology provider in the US – Dairy.com – entered the Indian market in October 2021, by acquiring Mr Milkman, the  leading Indian last-mile dairy  supply software-as-a-platform player. 

Mr Milkman’s software platform is being used by over 60 dairy brands, countrywide, including familiar brands like Akshayakalpa, Gyan Dairy, Whyte Farms, Abis Dairy, Carnival Group, Healthways and Fortune Dairy.

This has drastically changed the core of milk production from an unorganised small milk producer with a dozen cows to a technology-driven industry where large aggregators work with hundreds of small dairy farmers to ensure a steady and lucrative market.

Dr Kurien’s vision which saw milk marketing federations spread across the states to regional federations with popular brands like Mother Dairy, Aavin, Aarey, Milma, Nandini, Vijaya, has now inspired a new generation of technology-driven dairies in the private sector.

‘Connected Cows’

When Vishvas Chitale took over the reins at Maharashtra’s Chitale Dairy in 2015, then the largest private milk producer in India, he decided that technology was the only way to scale up an operation that produced around 60 million litres of milk annually from its own farm in Bhilawadi, in Maharashtra's Sangli district as well as some 50,000 farmers, statewide.

He turned to VMware software and Dell computer hardware, using them to create a unique Cows-to-Cloud platform.  

He tagged thousands of animals, embedding tiny radio frequency (RF Identification or RFID) chips embedded in their ear lobes, transmitting information on feeding and milking status, in effect making them all ‘connected cows’, automating the entire milk production ecosystem. 

To provide health services, artificial insemination, and blood profiling of each animal to identify disease or nutritional deficiencies, the data is shared with the farmers via simple SMS messages, to help them optimally manage their herds.

Today, the Chitale Dairy ecosystem of connected cows exceeds a quarter million, across Maharashtra.

Cow-to-Cloud  at the Chitale Dairy in Maharashtra
Cow-to-Cloud at the Chitale Dairy in Maharashtra
Main plant of the Amul Dairy in Anand
Main plant of the Amul Dairy in Anand

Identify cow by its muzzle

Injecting RFID chips into animals and other methods of tagging them have their costs, are limited time-wise by their inbuilt batteries and could be tampered with.

A new technology was on display at the recently concluded Bengaluru Tech Summit, by Taramani, Chennai-based Dvara e-Dairy. The company found that the muzzle (jaw) of the  bovine is unique to that animal, like a fingerprint in humans.

It created Surabhi ID, the muzzle-based identity solution: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is used to capture, retrieve and verify a bovine’s identity based on the muzzle prints.

With just a smartphone and an app  a farmer can identify the bovine. This is critical to track milk productivity, health management of the animal, recording its feed pattern and avoid duplication of the asset while offering financial services.

This last factor has proved very useful for insurance companies who can confirm if the animal insured is alive, throughout the period of the policy and can accurately identify the bovine during insurance claims.

Today the Surabhi ID is used by insurance companies to track over 25,000 animals in 10 states.

In May this year, Tamil Nadu-based Milky Mist, a leading dairy brand in South India, partnered with Dvara E-Dairy Solutions to provide new-age technology solutions to its over 60,000 dairy farmers across the 13 districts in Tamil Nadu.

Milky Mist procures approximately 6 lakh litres of milk daily from these farmers to produce an array of dairy products.

Robotic Milking

Automatic milking using Robotic milking apparatus connected to the animal’s teats is now standard practice in most professionally managed dairies in India.

By reducing costs and maintaining a clean and sanitary milking operation,  the industry has been able to control costs and ensure quality. The sensors can detect when a teat is ready for milking and the system has a built-in quality checker to separate milk that is not fit for human consumption.

Here, too, Indian ingenuity has simplified the process for small farmers who cannot afford a robotic system.

Even in 2005, Raghav Gowda, a South Karnataka teacher in Sulya taluk, won a national award and a patent for his invention of a simple manually operated non-electric milking mechanism that has been used by lakhs small operators.

The Dvara Surabhi ID solution captures image of cow's muzzle to uniquely identify the animal
The Dvara Surabhi ID solution captures image of cow's muzzle to uniquely identify the animal
The force behind the global success of India's milk revolution... small farmers and their cows.
The force behind the global success of India's milk revolution... small farmers and their cows.
Dvara

Monitoring via drone

With large herds, monitoring their movements while grazing was a manpower intensive task, long romanticised by the gwala or gopala in films and legends going all the way back to Lord Krishna.

Today drones do the job. Agricultural drones form a new and growing niche – and some drones tailored for cattle monitoring are fitted with thermal sensors that track animals through their body heat. Other applications include scanning of pastures to check on their grazability.

This February 2022 article in Krishi Jagran by Shivani Mehta provides many other examples of  new technologies being ploughed into dairy farming.

Cold Chains

The storing and safe transport of milk has emerged as a new challenge as  the supply chains from dairy to consumer grow. The flagship programme of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana (PMKSY) has been extended till 2026 with a Rs 46,00 crore fund.

Among the beneficiaries are schemes of the Animal Husbandry and Dairy Ministry for setting integrated Cold Chains and Food Safety infrastructure. Here, too, technology is increasingly bringing in efficiency and scale.

As consumers become more health-aware, they demand milk that is straight from the farm, with no additives – variously known as organic or A2 milk.

Today, in the world’s leading milk producing nation, technology is increasingly harnessed to ensure both quality and quantity of this best of all foods.

Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.

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