Why are section of dairy farmers opposing the quality index set by Sikkim Milk Union?
Dairy farmers Joel Gurung, Philip Rai and Vishan Gurung

Gangtok: Over the past week, a set of dairy farmers in Sikkim have been opposing the milk quality index set by the Sikkim Milk Union, a subsidiary of the State Animal Husbandry Department devoted to dairy farming.

The opposing dairy farmers are questioning the minimum quality standard of 3.5% Fat and 7.5 % Solid Not Fat (SNF) specifications set by the state milk union.

The dairy farmers Joel Gurung, Philip Rai and Vishan Gurung claim that the minimum standard in itself is very high. “Rather than the quality index, it would be advisable for the Union to set a minimum of Rs 35 per kg rate for that milk which does not fit into the quality index. The problem that we are facing is that if the quality is unmatched to the requirement, the milk will be returned back by the cooperatives. If that happens for three days at a stretch, the milk cooperatives stop accepting at all,” they said.

The maximum price fetched by a dairy farmer is Rs 66.63 per kg for 7% Fat and 9.5% SNF specifications. Average milk with 4.3% Fat and 8.3% SNF get the price of Rs 45.28 per kg, according to Sikkim Milk Union. The Union had reacted to the claims made by the farmers earlier in the week, with an elaborate press release on September 6. The press release asserted the quality index along with payment to be made to the dairy farmers by the 6th day of every month.

The opposing farmers had claimed about the delay in payments and incentives stretched for months. On Friday, holding a press conference of their own, Joel Gurung stated, “Earlier, we had demanded that the payment of the gwalas be released in a span of five days of supply of milk which still has not happened, I received my payment for the month of July on September 8, whereas the incentive is still pending.”

In the debacle that has now stretched to the Milk Union versus the dairy farmers, the three opposing farmers were served with a legal notice by Sikkim Milk Union on September 7.

The legal notice demands an apology and withdrawal of the press conference visuals where the issue of “improper payment rates, delays and unreasonable quality index set by Sikkim Milk Union” was discussed.

Refusing to budge to the legal notice, the dairy farmers challenged the Milk Union to serve more notices and take the legal proceedings ahead. “We will not apologize for a concern that affects all the dairy farmers in the State. Instead of withdrawing the last press conference visuals, we are here to exhibit to everyone how because of the issue we have raised, the government now is going the extra mile to sensitize dairy farmers about better practices and ways to procure more quality milk. But even with their efforts, the minimum quality of 3.5% Fat and 7.5 % SNF specifications at a price rate of Rs. 40/- per kg are unacceptable,” shared Gurung.

“The claims made by the minister that there are farmers who are making as high as Rs. 78 per kg of milk, that is no way possible as the fodder, the breed of cows in Sikkim, even the environment concerns could play a part. Such high-quality milk at 7% Fat and 9.5% SNF specifications is impossible in Sikkim. The cows that we have could be equally blamed. We have Holstein and Jersey breeds of cows. If the Union wants to ensure that we maintain the quality, they must equally be responsible in delivering us with high quality milk producing cows,” Gurung said.

The dairy farmers also highlighted the dependency on fodder for cows from outside the state. “The milk union must deliver as well as develop farms for organic produce of fodders in Sikkim, rather than have us buy from outside the state at expensive rates. When we have delays in payments, when we are barred from milk cooperatives over quality, our economic standard is dwindling while the rates of fodders keep rising. The suppliers now are fully aware of the union’s fake claim of Rs 78 per kg of milk for the highest quality of milk they are bound to raise the price of the fodder,” Gurung stated.

The dairy farmers also said they wanted to take their concern to the CM, but upon being served with a legal notice and the declaration by the minister that they are not dairy farmers, it now seems impossible. They, however, said they will take the legal route to pursue their demand or even call for protest.

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