Founder GN Srinivas Reddy believes that agriculture is not a profitable activity for most small-holder farmers because they lack entrepreneurial culture. They must treat agriculture as enterprise with profit as the goal
Guddahatti Nanjunda Srinivas Reddy encourages buyers to drink milk without boiling. Heating, he says, denatures milk protein and breaks its bond with calcium. Free calcium, according to him, cannot be absorbed by the body.
What about pathogens in milk? The milk which Reddy supplies to residents in Bengaluru, is not touched by humans. It is hygienically extracted with machines after the udders are sanitised, and chilled immediately. Reddy says “Mother Cow” puts “bio-protectors” or enzymes in milk which block the action of harmful bacteria.
(The National Dairy Research Institute in Karnal admits that boiling degrades milk protein, but the loss of some nutritional value is more acceptable than the harm that could come from drinking raw milk, which can have pathogens shed by cows, even if the milking is done aseptically).
There are other aspects about Reddy’s business that might seem quirky. Dairies supplying milk to him cannot use feed. Cattle feed, he says, fattens suppliers at the cost of farmers. It is not only costly but also harmful; the stomachs of ruminants are designed to digest fibre. They cannot break down cereals and oil meal. The result is acidosis, which causes softening of hooves and a reduction in milk output.
Oil meal also tends to attract fungus if not properly stored. Aflatoxins are harmful, especially to babies. Reddy insists on grass, leaves and protein-rich Azolla algae. He supplies about 8,000 litres of milk to Bengaluru. Since it is organic milk, he charges Rs 60 a litre. In Delhi, Mother Dairy’s full cream milk retails for R50. Reddy says people are willing to pay more. Anxious mothers do not like to take chances.
Reddy is a non-practising veterinarian, who spent all his working life with Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF), a Pune-based NGO engaged in rural development. He was vice-president of the organisation in Tumakuru district’s Tiptur taluka, about 150 km from Bengaluru, when he quit in 2010, to set up Akshayakalpa, a private company. It is envisaged as a social enterprise. The principles it is based on were gleaned from his experience at the NGO.
Reddy believes that agriculture is not a profitable activity for most small-holder farmers because they lack entrepreneurial culture. Though they bear a variety of risks, reward eludes them. They must treat agriculture as enterprise with profit as the goal. Not only should it be well-capitalised, it must be well-organised as well.
The dairies associated with Akshayakalpa have the same design. They are airy, steel-roofed sheds, with rubber mats on cemented floor for animal comfort. The cows and calves are stall-fed but not tethered. They are free to graze. The emphasis is on cleanliness. The dung has to be promptly cleared. It is flushed into a digester attached to balloons of biogas, which is used as cooking fuel and for producing electricity. The slurry from the digester is pumped into fields. The milking is done with machines and chilled on site. This is dairying designed to take out drudgery. This is important for women who have to do household chores as well. It is also meant to persuade youth to stay in villages.
The ideal dairy should have 25 cows. Reddy does not encourage more as owners will be unable to give personal attention. He disapproves of employees. Hired hands tend to be abusive, he says, and that can affect the animal’s well-being and milk output. Owners must be hands on.
Akshayakalpa supplies the design. It tells farmers where to source equipment from. It provides services like vaccinations and maintenance free of charge, but consumables have to be paid for. Its staff of 40 trains farmers. Initial engagement is quite high. Buyback of milk is assured. Farmers are paid R28-32 a litre depending on fat content. A 25-cow dairy requires an investment of R25 lakh. It must be on five acres so that the requirement of grass can be met in-house.
Sunil, of Alur village in Karnataka’s Tumakuru district, says he makes over R60,000 a month from milk. He has studied till the 12th standard. His family also has 55 coconut palms. His father Umesh says the palms have become more productive and are better able to resist diseases because of the slurry he uses as manure. He used to feed maize to the cows; he has stopped that. Most of his earnings are profit.
Shankeswara Param, another dairy-owner, says it is quite a change from the dairying he used to do. Earlier, he would keep the cows in dark kotadis or mud-walled sheds with little ventilation. He has 16 cows of which 10 are lactating. He earns about R40,000 a month.
The dairies look alike except for their location. Even the animals are indistinguishable. They are local breeds cross-bred with high-yielding alien animals for better adaptability. Akshayakapla has 130 of them in the Tiptur area.
Both Sunil and Param have urban investors as partners. They belong to a group called Mission 2020 and reside in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. They have an interest in agriculture but not the time for it. Sandeep Kamath, one of the investors looks at it as a “research project.” They intend to top up the capital and operational expenditure to achieve 200 litres of milk per dairy. By end of December they expect to know what it takes. They might continue as partners on profit-sharing basis, or exit after a few years by selling their shares to the owners.
Sunil’s dairy has a covered platform on stilts. His partners live in tents there when they come on weekends. The bucolic setting is quite a change from Bengaluru’s bustle.
Reddy enlisted the investors after banks ‘snubbed’ his farmer associates, he says. His aspiration is to ensure that a farmer family earns R1 lakh a month from dairying and allied activities. He is not fixated on dairying. ‘If tomorrow keeping donkeys can give us R1 lakh, we will do that,’ he says. Reddy is on the lookout for organisations that can finance the dairies. He discourages farmers from seeking government subsidies. He believes his model is both sustainable and profitable.
The author is editor of www.smartindianagriculture.in