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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 December, 2003, 12:10 GMT
Computing power aids India's milk farmers
Zubair Ahmed
By Zubair Ahmed
in Baramati

A quiet revolution is taking place in the unremarkable town of Baramati.

Indian diary farmers
Technology has helped the livelihood of dairy farmers
This place, 270 kilometres east of India's commercial capital Bombay (Mumbai), is literally the land of milk and honey, thanks to modern technology.

Its recently installed computerised and automated milk collection centres are helping India retain its new-found position as the world's largest milk producer.

It was all very different in Baramati just a few years ago. Then, the milk was sold locally, if at all.

Its 100,000 largely illiterate dairy farmers milked their few cattle by hand and struggled to get to market before the searing heat turned the milk sour.

At the market, they could never be sure they would find a buyer, day after day.

But cutting-edge technology used in the collection, processing and sale of milk is triggering a "white" revolution in the 150 dairy-farming villages around Baramati.

It need not have been this good. In a country like India, where labour is abundant and wages low, technology and automation are generally seen as suspect.

But Baramati's poorest, its struggling low-tech dairy farmers, surprisingly embraced technology as a lifeline.

Never better

It has clearly paid off. The computerised and refrigerated milk collection centres, locally known as bulk coolers, have changed the way farmer Ajit Kate and his family have lived for decades.

The installation of this centre has improved our standard of living and our income has gone up
Ajit Kate, farmer
Mr Kate owned just three cows a few years ago. Today, he has 60. He used to milk his animals by hand and rushed to market to sell, fearing it might sour in the heat.

Today, he has several hired hands to help, but it is a machine that does the actual milking. More important still, the milk travels only a few metres to be sold.

A fully-automated and refrigerated milk collection centre is right next door to his family's three-storey house.

Mr Kate says life has never been better.

"The installation of this centre has improved our standard of living and our income has gone up," he says, pointing at the automated collection centre.

"We ploughed our increased income back into our milk business and now we have 60 cows," he said, adding he now plans to buy 40 more.

Mr Kate, who sells 325 litres of milk a day, says computerisation has meant the difference between a life on the breadline and the certainty of selling every drop of milk his cows produce.

Computerised collection

All the milk he, and many of Baramati's other farmers, have to sell goes to Dynamix, the largest dairy company in the western state of Maharashtra.

Computerised milk collection
Collection centres are known as bulk coolers
The automation, Baramati's salvation, was the gift of private companies. Most of it was introduced by Dynamix, whose clients include Britannia and Nestle, multi-national manufacturers of dairy products.

Dynamix factory manager Rajesh Lele says: "Until recently there was not enough milk in Baramati and yet, on a bad day, 50% milk would remain unsold.

"After Dynamix opened its state-of-the-art plant in the late 90s, production has multiplied. It seems a white revolution is taking place in Baramati."

Computerised milk collection and sale may have made life simpler for farmers, but it is a complex, micro-managed process.

As soon as a farmer arrives at the collection centre, a sample of the milk he brings is poured into a tube.

The poor farmers were often wrongly advised by the quacks, who used to give strong doses of antibiotics for every minor illness
Dr PP Yogi, vet
The sample's fat content instantly flashes up on a flickering computer screen. This determines the price of the milk.

The can is then weighed. A printed receipt for the farmer displays the milk's fat content, weight and price and he collects his money.

All the while, the milk is being poured into the bulk cooler. Soon, it will be on its way to the big dairy companies that have bought it.

It takes Baramati's milk-producers just a few minutes to do something they might earlier, with luck, have managed in a whole day.

Once the milk is transported to Dynamix, it is heated and processed. The company's giant factory is run by just two computers.

"We monitor every movement of the 1.5 million litres of milk we receive every day here and its movement through to various stages," said factory manager Mr Lele.

Super breed

Baramati's technological gains are not limited to milk collection and processing. Computers now help to maintain a database on the town's cattle.

The quality of the milk has improved
A complete history of every milk cow is stored on file. Its health, nutrition, disease and pregnancy are monitored and details meticulously recorded.

The data helps determine the next stage of Baramati's white revolution, breeding the next generation of heavy milkers by artificially inseminating some cows with imported semen.

One local farmer, who currently has 30 cows, boasted he had calves bred to be a heavy-milker super breed.

"I'm waiting for the day when they start giving milk," he said with an air of expectation.

Dr PP Yogi, the local vet, said: "Earlier, they had no history of cattle's health and disease. The poor farmers were often wrongly advised by the quacks, who used to give strong doses of antibiotics for every minor illness.

"This used to spoil the taste of milk. Now the use of those drugs is minimal and therefore the quality of milk has improved in leaps and bounds".

Baramati's computerised milk industry has changed the way it works.

More importantly, it is now an important hub of India's thriving milk production industry, which became the world's largest in 1999.

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