Fewer and fewer young Sri Lankans choose to pursue dairy farming as a source of income, believing that the industry is labour-intensive, unprofitable and unattractive.
This stigma around dairy farming was raised at the recent dairy seminar organized by the All Island Dairy Association of the Chamber of Commerce, where challenges around farm productivity and milk quality were cited as key issues restricting the transformation of these smallholder farmers to prosperous entrepreneurs.
Clear direction is required from the government and industry to provide the necessary training, support and opportunity that will raise the profile and prospects of dairy farming. However, change also requires an entrepreneurial mindset from the smallholders themselves and the will to persevere in unleashing their true potential.
One such example of a dairy entrepreneur who has emerged successful after facing down his challenges is Kalum Prasanna, from Kuliyapitiya. Determined to secure a reliable income for his family, Kalum took to dairy farming at an early age, as he held the industry in high regard. However, despite his enthusiasm, Kalum lacked the knowledge and experience he needed to successfully manage a dairy farm, and made the difficult decision to leave the industry.
But by 2013, after failed attempts at working on the family’s “murukku” business, poultry farming and even a stint overseas, 30-year old Kalum returned to dairy farming, staying true to his ambition of persevering with his own business.
In 2015, he began to supply fresh milk to Fonterra Brands Sri Lanka, the company behind Anchor, when it set up a new Milk Chilling Centre in Kuliyapitiya.
“I initially revived my small-scale dairy farm and increased the herd, but soon realized that I lacked the knowledge and skills to efficiently manage the operation,” recalls Kalum.
“I was fortunate enough to meet Fonterra’s Supplier Relationship Officer (SRO) team who provided assistance in dairy farm management to help me ensure a consistent income. This gave me the financial security to expand and develop.”
The next year, officials from the National Agri Business Development Programme (NADeP), in partnership with Fonterra, approached Kalum and other dairy farmers from his village to be a part of an initiative designed to empower rural farmers, improve their livelihoods and create stable incomes.
Supporting farmers like Kalum with the partnership programme is part of Fonterra’s integrated end-to-end dairy development initiative to improve the milk quality and productivity of its local dairy farmer base and support their livelihoods.
An essential part of the partnership was to provide the farmers with the right tools for mechanization. In addition, Fonterra’s SROs used the company’s Demonstration and Training Farm in Pannala to show Kalum how to cultivate nutritious fodder for his cows – all of which helped him efficiently increase productivity and quality.
Under the advice of his SRO, Kalum went one step further and began making sileage, a sustainable practice which will help keep his cows healthy and nourished during periods of drought.
After years of hard work, Kalum finally received recognition of his achievements earlier this year, when he was selected as a success story for a visit by an international delegation from the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) missions in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Currently, Kalum’s farm supplies 100 litres of milk and has the potential to increase to 180 litres. In addition, his supplementary role in running a community Milk Collection Centre provides him with additional income and the potential to collect more than 80-100 litres of milk per day from nearby farmers. He has truly overcome his challenges to build the successful business he had aspired to.
“I have received many benefits since joining the NADeP-Fonterra programme and I am able to confidently support and provide for my family, but I am determined to do more.
His success provides an encouraging message to hundreds of thousands of farmers across the country, who can contribute to strengthening the Sri Lankan dairy industry – with the help of industry collaboration, courage and above all, an entrepreneurial mindset.