India’s high-tech milk boom
Spotlight on India’s world-leading dairy sector, which continues to make strides thanks to innovative technology and data-driven solutions. Can the world follow?
By Johanna Wong
Milk has been a significant part of life in India for thousands of years. Today, dairy products remain tightly woven into Indian culture, from daily consumption of yogurt to the gifting of mithai. However, prior to 1946, milk production in India was low, and disorganised. Following the success of the first farmer-led dairy cooperative, the Government of India formed the National Dairy Development Board in 1965, and sponsored the world’s largest dairy development program, “Operation Flood” in 1970. Its aims were to increase milk production, enhance rural incomes, and ensure cost to consumers remained reasonable. By 1998, India had overtaken the USA to become the world’s largest producer of milk, a title retained to this day.
Data, technology and innovative solutions
Despite the impressive growth in the Indian dairy sector, undernutrition in South Asia has been stubbornly persistent. Recent studies have found that adoption of technologies to improve livestock feed and hygiene practices at the farm-level is generally still low. However, farmers who do participate in innovation platforms tend to adopt improved livestock feeding and dairy marketing techniques. Innovative technological and data solutions are likely to play a big role in driving future growth. We highlight three award-winning dairy innovation platforms that are helping to lead this change.
Herd-focused: BAIF Development Research Foundation
BAIF Development Research Foundation is dedicated to “empowering people, transforming lives” through development research and capacity-building activities. Currently, BAIF’s programs in livestock development, resilient agriculture, community health, water-centric development and women’s empowerment are active in 80, 000 villages in 16 states and engage 5 million families.
BAIF’s development work in the dairy value chain focuses on improved breeding for smallholder dairy farms through technologies including genetic selection and multiplication, frozen semen production, and high genetic merit germplasm dissemination. BAIF strives to match cattle genotypes to their environment and deliver sustainable artificial insemination services to produce robust cows. These cows integrate into the smallholder crop and livestock mixed farms, making use of crop residues, providing draught power and manure, and producing milk for market, agri-products, and live animals for sale. Real-time digital capture allows comprehensive data collection to aid herd and farm performance analysis and management, genomic selection, breeding program assessment, and traceability.
MoooFarm’s mission is to “make farmers prosperous”. Their connected commerce solutions include a suite of digital innovations including E-Dairy Mitra, which allows farmers to connect with veterinarians and MoooFarm Saba, an information hub for farmers to connect, upskill or access market and business news. They also offer a farmer-friendly digital farm management program including cattle registry, an e-commerce platform which enables quick access to quality inputs, and Fin-Tech, where farmers can access credit and insurance services. MoooFarm’s novel cattle facial recognition technology increases trust between farmers and insurance companies. And finally, through their loyalty program, farmers earn MoooCoins to spend on various products and services.
Farmer capacity building features prominently in MoooFarm’s activities, with Village Level Entrepreneurs imparting both digital as well as technical training. Translation of apps into local languages increase reach, while increasing digital literacy enables farmers to access more information, and support and guidance for technology adoption improves farmer success. MoooFarm also recognises the important role of women in dairy farming in India and the particular challenges they face. They have specifically targeted women in education and training programs and partnered with Internet Saathi to promote digital literacy in women dairy farmers.
Through engagement with MoooFarm, farmers have increased their dairy knowledge, decreased veterinary costs, increased milk production and profit.
Supply chain focussed: Stellapps Technologies
Stellapps is an Internet-of-Things start-up focussed on digitisation and optimisation of the dairy supply chain, covering production, procurement, and cold chain management. The SmartMoo platform utilises animal wearables and sensors embedded in milking systems, milk chilling equipment and milk procurement centres to acquire and transmit data to their Big Data Cloud Service Delivery Platform. Here, data is analysed and information returned to users in a digestible format accessing using both smart and basic mobile devices.
Technology allows Stellapps to pay farmers in real-time based on milk quality (total solids), rather than just volume. Systematic data acquisition, machine learning and direct alerts enable the early detection of herd health, management and production problems, detection of milk quality and cold chain issues, and provides cattle farmers and supply chain actors, including finance and insurance providers, measurable data.
At present, the SmartMoo platform with its suite of apps are involved in the processing of over two billion litres of milk annually.
Dairy in the time of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit India hard, with 3.6 million confirmed cases as at 31 August, and concern that numbers may be higher in rural areas. The restrictions enacted to contain virus spread have impacted the activities of innovation platforms and modified the needs of farmers. Ms Aashna Singh, co-founder of MoooFarm, says that COVID-19 has disrupted the timely flow of information to farmers, decreased access to and increased cost of veterinary visits due to lockdown, and increased the cost of inputs such as feed due to logistical difficulties. In addition, limitations on movement have complicated milk transportation, leading to many cooperatives placing a cap on the amount of milk they are accepting from farmers.
For BAIF, the complete lock down in place in April led to the suspension of the cattle breeding program, however, BAIF has outlined a series of activities to assess and respond to the needs of farmers. Similarly, MoooFarm has tailored their response to COVID-19 based on their farmers’ needs by expanding the capacity of their on-demand virtual veterinary service E-Dairy Mitra, and creating a community platform, MoooFarm Saba, to ensure that important information reaches farmers and allow farmers to share and learn from each other. In less than 6 weeks, MoooFarm provided over 20,000 minutes of emergency e-advisory services to smallholder dairy farmers, providing solutions, and decreasing cost to farmers.
Even with the disruptions from COVID-19, these three tech-savvy organisations are looking forward to a brighter future for milk in India. Stellapps are in the process of developing more products for the distribution side of the dairy supply chain. BAIF are looking to continue scaling up their operations, and have called for the formation of a national-level stakeholder platform, increased international collaboration, infrastructure and capacity building, and the need for enabling policy environments and long-term investments. MoooFarm envisages building a dairy marketplace that offers a one-stop solution to dairy farmers’ needs. This includes the development of preventative advisory services, quick access to loans, better insurance premiums, and access to live market prices for cattle trading.
The success of these high-tech dairy initiatives highlights the importance of high quality data and market intelligence in understanding how we meet future food demands, not only in India but in the rest of the world.
- Watch: IoT and the dairy value chain in India - Venkatesh Seshasayee, Chief Architect, Stellapps
- Blog: World Milk Day 2020 - Milking the Data
Johanna Wong is a Researcher with SEBI-Livestock, the Centre for Supporting Evidence Based Intervention in Livestock. SEBI-Livestock facilitates the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) Community of Practice and runs livestockdata.org on behalf of the community.
Header photo: A woman farmer uses MoooFarm's digital applications to improve dairy cattle health and productivity. Photo: MoooFarm.