When Sukhdeo Palkar got his seven cows to the Hardongri fodder camp in Bhoom taluka of Osmanabad in September last year, it was a last-ditch attempt to save them and himself from the drought that left the region dry even at the peak of monsoon. He did not expect this to be the beginning of a new venture.
But for Palkar and 16 other farmers, who got together under the aegis of Sanjeevani Milk and Milk Products, the year of scarcity has also brought with it a path of hope, with registration of the first farmers’ company in Osmanabad that trades in ‘khawa’ or ‘khoya’ (milk solids), used in several sweets.
Pooling together nearly 150 cows, the farmers, under the guidance of a local cooperative leader Balaji Patil, who was running the Hardongri camp, decided to
use the milk to make khoya, which fetches a better price and has a longer shelf life compared to milk.
For the past nine months, this business that operates out of the cattle camp — it even has a bio gas plant on the premises — has kept the farmers afloat during one of the worst droughts in recent history.
“This product has more demand and shelf life than milk and every farmer can make a profit for every litre. The profit margin is even higher during festival and wedding season. This is distributed according to the share of milk pooled in by the farmers,” said Ameya Patil, Balaji’s son, who heads this group.
The group is already packing and branding its products, which are sold to traders in Aurangabad, Osmanabad, Pune and even Hyderabad. And the business is growing every day.
After the local administration, led by collector Dr Prashant Narnavare, put its weight behind the business, the taluka can now boast of 150 such units, which produce roughly 35,000kg of milk solids a day.
On the cards is a cold storage unit at Osmanabad MIDC, funded by the state government’s Micro Small Enterprises — Cluster Development Programme (MSE-CDP) and run by a private company, Nirmal Milk Products Association. “Bhoom taluka is seen as Osmanabad’s milk region, but the cooperative dairy movement collapsed here seven to eight years ago owing to mismanagement. Now, farmers are caught in the net of traders, who offer an advance and block milk
supply from them for a long duration. These advances are far lower than market rates. In a Khava group or cluster, farmers can directly supply the product and make more money,” said Pravin Pawar, sub divisional officer, Bhoom.
Pawar admits it is ironic that the drought has helped the ‘khava cluster’ take root in the taluka that largely depends on cattle. One of the reasons for this has been the long-running cattle camps in the district, which brought villagers together on one platform.
Under Pawar’s supervision, there are 43 cattle camps that house nearly 52,000 of the 65,000 cattle in Bhoom and it is to the credit of the administration that milk production in the region has increased from 1.20 lakh litres to nearly 2 lakh litres in a year fraught with scarcity.
Sanjay Gadhave, another private khava cluster businessman, sources his milk from nearly 1,000 farmers in Bhoom and produces 900kg of khoya a day. “We have been able to offer farmers commission for every litre of milk, besides a price of Rs22 a litre,’’ he said.
For Palkar, who came to this camp carrying a burden of unpaid debt, failed soyabean crop and dried wells, this business symbolises a second chance.