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World Milk Day: India’s rising milk prices, a challenge to feed undernourished children?

India is the largest producer of milk and contributes 24% to the global milk production but it is unable to feed milk to its children who need it the most. India ranks 107th out of 121 countries in Global Hunger Index (GHI 2022 ranking) and has the highest child wasting rate of all the countries covered in the GHI.  Approximately 4500 children die every year  in India under the age of five due to hunger and malnutrition.

So, why the biggest producer of milk in the world is not able to provide milk to 60 % of its most needy population in terms of milk requirement?

Soaring price rise, poverty, inadequate supply chain  and poor distribution are few of the known reasons for unavailability of milk to the most needy population of India specially children.  In the past few years, milk prices have surged more than 12% and a further hike is expected according to various market projections.

On World Milk day 2023 it is important to introspect why India is not able to provide milk, the most important nutrition for children  specially to the extremely vulnerable age group of under five years of age.

India’s nutrition struggle story

In a report published by Observer Research Foundation, the authors give reference to the Global Nutrition Report 2021, which denotes India’s battle with malnutrition and inadequate nutrition targets continue to be a cause for concern.

The report highlights the stark contrast between the recommended dietary targets and the actual intake of key food groups among Indian adults. Apart from whole grains, the Indian diet lacks essential elements such as fruits, legumes, nuts, fish, and dairy. These nutrient-deficient diets pose risks to optimal growth, development, and the prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have disrupted India’s food distribution systems, further exacerbating food insecurity. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the country’s primary nutrition program, has been criticized for inadequate focus on the critical first 1000 days of a child’s life. Experts argue that children under 2 to 3 years of age should be given the highest priority to ensure proper growth and development.

The authors also highlight that the Poshan Abhiyaan 2018, a flagship nutrition program, has faced criticism for falling short of its promised impact. Despite aiming to reduce stunting among young children, it could only achieve a minimal reduction of one percentage point, far from the intended three percentage points per year.

Factors that contribute to the rise in prices of milk in India

Rising Milk Price – A Cause for Concern on Food Security, a research paper by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore explains the various reasons why milk prices hike in India. According to the authors, India’s dairy sector is grappling with rising costs and energy challenges, which have significant implications for both farmers and consumers. The increasing demand for milk, coupled with supply constraints, has led to a mismatch between supply and demand, resulting in persistent milk price inflation.

Cattle feed, a major recurring expense in dairy animal rearing, comprises cereals, oil cakes, and molasses. These raw materials are not only used in cattle feed but also have demand in other markets, leading to a demand shock and subsequent price increase, according to the paper.

Also, energy is required for transportation, both temporally and spatially, and for cooling milk, which is a perishable commodity. The entire infrastructure for milk transportation and storage needs to be maintained and operated around the clock. However, this infrastructure heavily relies on non-renewable energy resources, further straining the sector’s sustainability.

The paper also mentions about the situation of cattle slaughter in the country, which also contributes to the struggles of the cattle industry.

The dairy sector in India needs to address the challenges of rising costs and energy consumption to ensure its long-term sustainability. Collaborative efforts between farmers, policymakers, and industry stakeholders are crucial in finding innovative solutions. Also, there is a need to place feeding of undernourished children should be the topmost priority.

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