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KARACHI, March 28: Citing a hike in the prices of cattle feed, dairy farmers are gearing up to increase the rates of fresh milk to Rs40 and Rs42 from April 1.

The dairy farmers’ decision, analysts insist, must be seen in the context of the city government’s failure to enforce its official wholesale and retail rates, Rs32 and Rs34 per litre respectively, notified earlier this month.

Currently, milk is being sold at Rs36-Rs38 per litre in the city against the official rates of Rs34 per litre.

Refuting the government’s claim that official rates were fixed after consultation with the stakeholders, representatives of the dairy farmers’ associations maintain that it was a unilateral decision.

They argue that in view of the persistent rise in the prices of cattle feed and other essential commodities they are left with no option but to increase the prices of fresh milk. They deplore that no initiative has so far been taken by the relevant authorities to come up with a viable solution to this lingering problem.

The dairy farmers are of the view that until the government ensures provision of feed inputs at subsidised rates, the consumers will have to bear the hike in milk prices.

Talking to Dawn, Shaukat Mukhtar of the Karachi Dairy Farmers Association (KDFA) said: “Every segment of society has been badly affected by the sky-rocketing prices of daily-use commodities and dairy farmers are no exception. The government makes tall claims about the availability of milk at reduced rates but makes no effort to at least control the prices of those items used as or in the preparation of animal feed. For instance, prices of feed concentrates and oil seed cakes have increased from Rs8 per kilo to Rs14 per kilo over the last few months, while prices of animals have increased from Rs50,000 to Rs70,000 and above during the last one year.”

He said that apart from this, the hike in the prices of petroleum products had also pushed labour and transportation expenses upwards. If the government sincerely wished to provide relief to the consumers, it should first of all help dairy farmers to reduce the cost of production, Mr Mukhtar added.

Pointing out another factor contributing to the increased cost of production, Haji Sikandar Nagori of the same association said that as per a decision of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) taken five years ago, dairy farmers were supplied electricity on commercial rates instead of agriculture rates.

Identifying multiple factors involved in the rise of milk prices, he said that the government must make short and long term strategies to deal with the issue.

“There is an acute shortage of animals caused by the slaughtering of calves and dry animals. We must stop this practice and establish grazing grounds to overcome the shortage,” he said.

He further said that the city government had failed to evolve a consensus on the issue only because it refused to accept the ground realities.

The second chief player in the milk production business, Haji Akhtar Gujjar, of Dairy Farmers Association of Karachi, said that dairy farmers had even asked the city government to include independent experts in the committee to solve the issue.

He warned that if the authorities did not change their attitude, the dairy farmers would be forced to sell milk in the open market.

All representatives of milk producers agreed that the price of milk should be at least between Rs40 and Rs42.

While the tussle between the city government and dairy farmers seems unending, Dr Ghulam Sarwar, director, Animal Husbandry, Sindh, feels that the ultimate sufferer will be the consumer for which the parties must sit together.

“They must listen to each other’s grievances. There is no doubt that the prices of cattle feed have increased in the last few months, but to what extent that should be determined by independent experts. There are able experts within the city government who can do the job. The city government used to ask for our expertise in determining milk prices, but for some years it has been doing the job on its own.”

The Executive District Officer of the city government’s Enterprise and Investment Promotion department, Dr Shahab Imam, said that the government would not allow anybody overcharge the consumers and would deal with violators with an iron hand because the court had asked the city government to enforce the official prices.

“We held many meetings with dairy farmers who have had adopted blackmailing tactics. The court has given us the authority to enforce the milk price and we will do that. Dairy farmers always find excuses for not selling milk at official rates so it’s useless talking to them,” he said.