After the formation of a jersey group in this gewog, villagers were told milk would be collected from houses for sale, creating a good economic opportunity. Sixteen households joined the group and each member has a jersey cow or two.
The members were given a loan of Nu 50,000 to buy a jersey cow, 15 cement bags and 20 CGI sheets to build cowsheds. Since then, every member has been contributing Nu 50 toward a joint fund, to buy a new cow if the one they have falls sick or dies.
That was three years earlier. The concrete shed for the cows remain. Apart from the milk and other dairy products they produce for their own consumption, the dream of commercializing it never came true- not without the milk collector and the milk-storing center that was supposed to be built near the village.
Unending meetings, no results
According to a farmer, meetings have been going on forever. “Every month we meet but nothing has come out of it,” she said.
Other villagers who are not in the group have their own tales to tell. Some of them feel the group is only for those who can afford cattle. “I am not a part of the group. This does not mean I don’t want to join. I have cows too and I would like to be a group member. But the amount of Nu 50 every month is too expensive for me,” said a villager. He also added that the scheme is leaving out those who cannot afford it.
The delay, according to the Samtse Dzongkhag Livestock Officer (DLO), Thongkay Dukpa, is because of several reasons. Since there is no milk processing plant nearby, they are waiting for Zimdra to establish one. Also the breeds of cattle are being improved and more people are encouraged to join the dairy group. A proposal was also submitted earlier to the Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives to start a center for milk collection. The livestock office is also planning to lease the Bhutan Post Office by the mid of 2012.
The DLO also said that it is difficult to get the right milking cow breed from India as it takes so much time to go through the quarantine stations at the check posts.
On the issue of farmers not being able to join the group even if they were interested to, he said that some of them cannot access loan as they already have taken loan earlier for construction and other purposes. For those wanting to join the group later than others, they have to pay equal amount of what has been paid so far by the group members.
The Chief Livestock Officer with DOL, Tashi Dorji (PhD) said that if it is just to meet the market demand, it can be done easily by encouraging private companies to have farms and leasing out a huge land and cows. “But that is not the policy. We see dairy farming as a good enterprise for farmers as an income source,” he said. Further he also said that the intention is to spread the benefit to a larger group than to few selected entrepreneurs.
About 90% farmers in Bhutan have an average of two to three cattle. “Dairy farming is acceptable in our society and the acceptance is appreciated. The department has invested in working with individual farmers but it is still stuck there as it is subsistence and not on a large scale,” he said.
It was during the 10th Five Year Plan (FYP), that the department invested in developing subsistence farmers through formation of dairy farmer groups. The farming units spread across small-holder dairy units and the inadequate supply of feed and fodder has limited the pace of dairy development. Further he added that in the coming 11th FYP, the dairy development will be up-scaled to promote semi-commercial dairy enterprises.
Of the 112 dairy farmers groups across the country, Samtse has 12. There are with 33 milk processing units and 45 milk collection centers in Bhutan as of September 2011.
The domestic milk production increased by 20% from 2008 to 2010 and the import of fresh milk decreased by 15% from 2009 to 2010, which indicates a gradual increase in and replacement through domestic production.
As per the DoL Progress Report, the dairy units contributed Nu 779 million in 2010-11 accounting to 73.63 percent of the overall livestock sector contribution.