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Local milk producers need protection from import

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IMPORT of powdered milk has almost doubled over three years from 2013 to 2016 mainly due to increased commercial use and home consumption. The annual import rose to 104,000 tonnes, up 86 percent from 56,330 tonnes during 2009-10, as per figures provided by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and it is natural that members of Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association would protest against such phenomenal rise in powdered milk import to protect their interest. They demonstrated in the city recently to urge the government to curb import. 

But the fact is that local milk producers are still far behind to supply market at reasonable cost and it makes a reasonable case for import; which is obviously increasing manifold every year with a rise in local demand. But we believe that the government must take credible steps to boost local dairy production and expansion of its marketing chain. Most people prefer dairy milk to powdered milk to feed their children but shortage of local supply is keeping them dependent on imported powdered milk.

It is true some local milk producing farms are supplying market but it is quite inadequate and supplier like Milk Vita is seriously troubled by trade union activities retarding expansion of its production and supply network. We believe cooperative dairy farms may be set up for milk production and marketing at every locality as cow rearing and beef fattening are getting popular throughout the country. This is the only viable way one can see to limit import without causing supply shortfall in the market.

Skimmed milk accounts for majority of the import. Bangladesh's annual average consumption of skimmed milk was 35,000 tonnes in 2013-15 and US sources estimate it to rise to 49,000 tonnes by 2025 as per data. The rise in consumption is natural with the rise in population and their standard of living. Information suggests Bangladesh still lags behind India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in per capita milk consumption although import is here on rise.

Bangladesh produced around 72.75 lakh tonnes of milk in 2015-16, up by 4 percent from a year ago against an estimated annual demand at 1.46 crore tonnes as per figure provided by Department of Livestock Services, Local production needs a total breakthrough to make the country self-dependent in milk products. Bangladesh has a total of 12.01 lakh-registered dairy farms in 2015-16; which were 79,942 in 2010-11. So it is clear to encourage our farmers to produce more milk we need to curb imports of powdered milk. But it is also true that we need to allow some imports to overcome supply shortfall.

Milk is an essential product for human body. As a primary food item of immeasurable importance it is necessary for the government to find out ways to improve and protect our local milk producers. Their capacity must be allowed to steadily grow to curb imports.

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