Column : Utterly butterly unnerving

Written by Alokananda Chakraborty | Updated: Sep 27 2009, 01:57am hrs
Bengals acute butter shortage, which has confounded restaurant owners, patisseries and now families, is the latest unforeseen result of the somewhat dry monsoon this year. Reports suggest that Bengal barely received 10% of its butter demands in the last two months. And since Amul makes up 95% of the total supply of butter to the state, smaller dairies are finding it difficult to fill the gap.

Suppliers and retailers are having a field daymarking up prices by as much as 30%. Consider yourself lucky, if you can pick up a kilo of Amul butter for Rs 210. Some say the butter crisis is overstated; others blame the rising costs of raw materials and global commodity prices for the shortage. Amul puts the blame squarely at the door of the drought in the initial weeks of monsoon that pushed fodder prices upward. Underfed cows = inadequate milk, leaving less available to be churned into butter, it says. The cooperative has also said the shortage wont last for long, and they are working to increase production. But how could things come to such a pass There is no serious shortfall in milk production, its principal raw material. The countrys milk production stands at 114.4 million metric tonnes currently, making it the largest milk producer in the world, ahead of the US and Germany. According to statistics provided by the National Dairy Development Board website, between 1991-92 and 2007-08, Indias milk production figure rose from 55.7 mt to 104.8 mt.

So is this a distribution issue Perhaps it is. Dairy products are perishable; so the lack of a well-oiled cold chain can be a bugbear. But then, if ice-creams can be sold virtually at every street corner, no reason other dairy products cant. Plus, pasteurisation has overcome this weakness partially. Is the vendor the stumbling block then Could be. Milk vendors, a largely unorganised segment, enjoy the last mile advantage and in that, have a lot of leverage.

These are tough questions and there are no easy answers. But the case of the disappearing butter has unnerved people even in a state quite accustomed to dealing with shortages. Utterly, butterly, unnerving,

aloka@expressindia.com