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Pakistan pioneers lead epic struggle for more milk

Published Aug 27, 2012 04:35am


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A farmer inspects the quality of milk in an industrial refrigerator at a farm in Narowal. — Reuters Photo
A farmer inspects the quality of milk in an industrial refrigerator at a farm in Narowal. — Reuters Photo

NAROWAL: Pakistani Shahzad Iqbal abandoned the jet-set lifestyle of a corporate executive because he wanted to do something worthwhile for his country. So he invested his life savings in world-class bull semen.

He imports the sperm from potent bulls in the West, with names like Socrates, Air Raid and Liberator, and sells it at affordable prices to farmers so they can breed cows that produce higher volumes of quality milk.

Iqbal is one of a band of trailblazers — from small-town entrepreneurs to managers in multi-national companies — who want to transform Pakistan's ramshackle dairy industry into a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

“It's going to take a revolution to turn it around,” said Iqbal, as his farm workers moved metal cylinders filled with liquefied nitrogen gas that store the semen at -196 Celsius.

If Iqbal and his comrades can succeed in their mission to overturn centuries-old practices and introduce modern techniques, they could open the door to a revolution in the livelihoods of millions of impoverished farmers.

The dismal state of the dairy industry is a striking example of Pakistan's habit of missing opportunities throughout a 65-year history tainted by military coups, political infighting and a form of crony capitalism that has stifled entrepreneurship.

With 63 million cows and buffaloes, Pakistan has one of the world's biggest herds, but it cannot export milk because the animals' yields are so low.

Preoccupied by power struggles and tension with the army, successive governments have failed to realise the potential of the sector, which engages about 35 million people, or 20 per cent of the population, in direct or related work.

While other countries worked on ways to improve livestock gene pools, fodder and veterinary medicine, Pakistan largely left its farmers to fend for themselves over the decades.

The result is a haphazard supply chain riddled with inefficiencies stretching from the cow's udder all the way to the tea cup.

“Chasing my animals”

The challenge for Iqbal and his fellow pioneers starts with men like 65-year-old Abdul Rashid, a farmer limping along with a cane made from a branch, trying to keep up with his cows and buffaloes wandering through flooded fields in Punjab, Pakistan's agricultural heartland.

Unlike in the West, where livestock is neatly organised in high-tech farms for maximum efficiency, Pakistan's dairy industry is fragmented.

The majority of suppliers are individual farmers who own three or four cows and buffalos and are scattered in remote villages along crumbling roads or cart tracks.

There is no modern marketing system, so it is up to the farmers to find a buyer for their meagre yields.

“I have no one to turn to for help,” said Rashid as he struggled to stop his animals wandering across a road.

“I spend my time chasing my animals and they don't give me enough milk to improve my family's life.”

Rashid and millions of farmers like him rely on middlemen, or dodhis in Urdu, to sell their milk to households, transporting it in rusty cans tied to old Yamaha motorcycles.

In the potholed town of Sahiwal, dodhis dropped dirty ice cubes into the churns. Dead flies floated on the surface, a reminder of the bacteria that often contaminates Pakistan's milk supplies.

“Nothing has changed in 40 years,” said one of the middlemen, Mohammed Akram, 55, wearing worn-out plastic sandals and standing near a pile of fetid garbage.

“We get up at four in the morning to buy the milk, two kilograms from here, four kilograms from there. We get it from far and wide. It's a lot of hard work.”

Only about three per cent of Pakistan's milk is processed, unlike in many countries where supermarket shelves are stacked with various domestically produced brands.


After 15 years of making good money as an executive for Western beverage and tobacco companies overseas, Iqbal decided he wanted to do something for Pakistan.

To Iqbal, there was no more glaring example of the gap between Pakistan's potential and its performance than the dairy industry.

Rather than despair, he saw an opportunity, pouring his savings of $1 million into creating a breed improvement project called Jassar Farms.

He dreams of the day when the average Pakistani cow, which yields about 1,600 litres of milk after it calves, can compete with the top of the line Israeli Holstein that churns out 12,500 litres.

Iqbal acknowledges the odds are stacked against entrepreneurs in Pakistan because of red tape, corruption, poor governance, chronic power cuts and a Taliban insurgency that keeps many investors away.

“I'm not saying I'm mad, but certainly I'm not absolutely normal either, because it takes a lot of persistence to undertake this kind of challenge,” said Iqbal, wearing a pink polo shirt and jeans.

Big money

Iqbal can take comfort from the fact that he is not alone in his quest for reform. Some international companies are also working for change.

Nestle has installed 3,200 industrial-size milk refrigerators at collection points across the country to lay the foundations for the kind of cold storage chain essential for a modern dairy industry, and give farmers a steady market for their milk.

At a training centre with manicured lawns and spotless dormitories for farmers in Punjab, Nestle holds workshops to drive home a simple message — properly managed cows produce more milk.

Instructors show farmers how to treat their animals — the Nestle cattle lounge around on soft sand under powerful fans, chewing nutritious fodder. They have constant access to water — essential practices of which most farmers are ignorant.

So far, Nestle has put 9,000 farmers through the program. Some have doubled their milk output, says the company, which estimates it could make about $450 million in milk exports from Pakistan.

"The potential is very large but it will only succeed if we can develop milk of export quality because we need to be able to trade in the commodity export market," said New Zealander Bill Stevenson, head of milk collection and dairy development at Nestle Pakistan Ltd.

Like Iqbal, he has found that deep in rural Punjab, attitudes are hard to change.

Many farmers still view their animals as status symbols, not assets that can help turn around the economy, where some believe a lack of opportunities for a frustrated, youthful population may pose as big a threat to stability as militancy.

Cows are often sold to pay for weddings or dowries and are seen as four-legged insurance policies for hard times, usually living beside farmers' mud and brick homes. "It's a full-time job," said farmer Mukhtar Ahmed as he lay on a rope bed outside his home, a cow defecating nearby.

"And farmers can't always sell their milk because it's not easy to transport and find buyers. Many are left with unsold milk."


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Comments (34) Closed

True Pakistani Aug 27, 2012 12:14pm
- it is NOT the quantity, rather it is the quality of milk that pakistan needs. a few years ago when a milk adulteration case came to a court in lahore the judge sent a sample to germany for analyses. the result was 9 chemicals mixed in the sample. this is pakistan and not, repeat not finland or new zealand or sweden . . . here the milkman wants money. it matters not how many people he kills in the process.
Kamal Gupta Aug 28, 2012 06:54am
In India too, the middle class and upward are shifting to less creamy milk, even to skimmed milk. However, the poorer sections still prefer high fat milk (and are the bigger per capita consumers of ghee as well). I used to run a dairy near Delhi with a capacity of processing 600,000 liters milk per day. We collected over half of the raw milk directly from farmers in villages, carried this to chilling centers (industrial refrigerators) in typical dudhia cans in mini-trucks, and then bulk carried it to our plant in tanker trucks. Eastern India always had a preference for skimmed milk, North preferred full cream milk (6.5% butter fat) while South & West were even on preferences. However, even in the North, middle class & above, especially in urban areas, preferred low- to- no fat milk. I know of someone who set up a 1,000 cattle dairy farm in the eastern state of Orissa, using Jersey and Holstein cows. He reported that in three years, milk output came down by 80% despite all efforts including getting experts from Australia, Israel, etc. They said that the climate was not suitable. Mr Shahzad Iqbal is doing a commendable job. I do hope he takes local factors into account while using foreign bull sperm. Incidentally, the dairy company that I ran exports skimmed milk powder to Pakistan occasionally.
parveez Aug 27, 2012 11:50am
I wish him well, nice to see there are people who have not givn up with Pakistan. Hope Imran wins the next election, and I am sure there will be a lot more people who will come back to Pakistan. May be I can come back again and try once more. I would love to come back for good and help my country men. I miss Pakistan.
Mohammad Hassan Aug 27, 2012 10:20am
The reason we see so many remote places in Sindh and Punjab, being famous for their "mithais" like Dhoda in Khushab and Sohan halwa etc. is because the milk production at these places is more than its consumption at these places. With no means of transporting it to bigger cities the milk is turned into mithais.
zEes Aug 27, 2012 10:09am
yup. it seems to be the same case as gastronomy and eating habits of this region ae the same...
M.Shaharyar Aug 27, 2012 10:09am
Mr. Gupta you raised a good point about the milk of holstein cows being less creamy but jersy cows's milk is quite better as compared to the holstein. But I would like to mention the fact that the thinking of people in Pakistan is changing rapidly. I myself had two buffaoles. The milk of buffaloes is very creamy I also didn't like the cow milk but when I bought a cow and started to use cow milk my perception was altogether changed and now I have sold both buffaloes and own two cows (1 jersy and 1 fresian). It's not me only recently I have seen many peolple changing their stance on cow milk. I feel that Milk industry is going to change very soon in Pakistan.
Capt C M Khan Aug 27, 2012 09:36am
Good informatative article. Let us pray it suceeds in our corrupt country. Well done Mr Iqbal.
sidra Aug 27, 2012 02:40pm
This article is incomplete. You should have mentioned about the fully automated commercial farms of Jehangir Tareen that supply the bulk of Nestle's milk. There are many such successful commercial dairy farms in PAkistan.
shariq Aug 27, 2012 03:39pm
6% milk fat??? That's really high. The raw milk which we recieve in the dairy plants here in the US is ranging between 3.3% - 3.85% milk fat.
Kamal Gupta Aug 27, 2012 06:17am
One should look at the revolution in India's dairy industry. Called the "White Revolution", and pioneered by Dr Kurien of National Dairy Development Board, this movement has increased milk production in India by four times to become the largest in the world. India too, tried out Jersey & Holstein cows but that experiment did not succeed. Reason is that milk from those breeds are less creamy, which Indians (and I suspect Pakistanis also) do not like.
Hasan Awan Aug 27, 2012 05:35am
Holstein cows cannot survive the weather of Punjab Pakistan. The best way is to cross with a Pakistani Potohari Dhanni Cow sthat is a local breed of cow existed in North Punjab for centuries and that cross will ultimately will do wonders as Dhanni is the local cow while Holstein are know to cease Milk produce after 35 C and beyond and our usual temperatures are way above 40 in summers.
abdul Aug 31, 2012 01:00pm
Don't mess with nature.
HM, Canada Aug 27, 2012 04:08pm
Pleased to read a positive story and comments on Dawn after a long time.
aaa Aug 27, 2012 01:31pm
What i dont get is why doesnt every area use their own milk. Why is there this necessity to store in complicated ways. Im not so sure if milk ever goes waste. Area where i have lived distt gujrat the near by villages there was opposite problem. People were so keen to sell all the milk that there was never any milk left for the family. Here im talking about farmers with not more than 4 to 5 buffalows. Same was true for desi(ecological) eggs. After 11 in the day no eggs were available as everyone had sold. It was more difficult to get in the village as compared to the near by city as shops always had everything.
Saadia Aug 27, 2012 10:54am
Don't worry they will mix some powder and thicken it. Our people are not health conscious and our industries is quite smart in fooling consumers.
Peace Aug 27, 2012 11:07am
My dear fellow friends, to start with the comments, I would like to to add that dairy farming is not a very profitable business. Even in countries like US and Holland, the farmer is facing economic losses despite high yielding cows and huge subsidies by their Governments. Now, if anybody has noted, every multinational and national company working in Pakistan for dairy industry is striving hard to educate our farmers, develop our milch breeds and make supply setup to their dairy processing units. But, none of them is ready to establish a very modern type of country wide dairy farm. Because they know that producing milk is never a profitable business but processing is. They buy milk from the market say for Rs. 35 per liter on 6 % Fat percentage, but after processing it, adjusting Fat % to 3 %, makes it almost 3 liters, sells it on say Rs. 60/liter. Amazing, isnt it. So propagating dairy farming as a profitable business is a really tricky issue. Now, let me tell something about breed improvement. Nature was not very kind to western countries to bestow them a 100 liter milk producing hosltien friesein. So how did they do it?. Just have a peek on the breed improvement program of the west. It took them almost 70 year. What they did? Started discarding the low producer and improving the gene of high yielder. Crossbreeding was never an option. So coming toward Pakistan, what our so called breed improvement program did? We imported bull/semen and cow from western countries and carried out extensive crossbreeding, practically destroying the gene pool of our all high producing animals. So now you cant find a pure local animal, Sahiwal, Dhani etc to name a few. Short cut being the only way for our policy makers in every field in our country has lead us nowhere, and livestock is no extension. Well, the guy who has invested in semen import and improving is one of those who doesn't has any practical knowledge of breeding and genetics, will definitely improve milk yield for a short term by cross breeding, but what about F3, the third generation of crossbred animals, who would have a 70% reduction in milk production and stunted growth, some body should ask him?
Cyrus Howell Aug 27, 2012 11:10am
Israel also manufactures dairy equipment and sells it around the world.
Saadia Aug 27, 2012 10:51am
Yes the cows will produce more milk and at end of the day we'll have lots of milk and more fat and much disease as all this milk will come from antibiotics and animal feed. In west Europe people are now more health conscious, many of them buy organic milk and vegetables, even though they are expensive. If Pakistanis are serious then like Morocco they can also produce and sell organic products. But again we want big money over night, who cares about peoples' health. Aug 27, 2012 11:19am
Follow footsteps of AMUL Also start AMUL like project from the area where people are more co operative else AMUL will fail. AMUL started in Gujarat where excellent coperative concept prevails among common people and farmers. If started in other province , the picture could be different.
ali ahmed Aug 27, 2012 10:48am
its amazing that there are still some who are really interested to work for PAKISTAN our home land and identity. there are lot of opportunities and value able fodder for these animals to produce good quality milk. I pray for the success of Pakistanis in this field of their ancestors
abdul Aug 31, 2012 01:08pm
I won't buy that milk.
Dr. Mahmood Ahmad Sep 03, 2012 01:31pm
Indian dairy Amul model is a success story, as it invested in business model that protected both producers and consumer welfare in the value chain, as opposed to our case where very little investment in farm productivity and dairy market is targeted to high income brackets. The Amul model was built on huge subsidy provided at the initial stage which we cannot provide or afford given poor health of the economy and more importantly was built on a cooperative spirit, again our society lacks that other than few pockets. We need to build our dairy industry based on best of this and other models that can work in our circumstances, at this point we dont have one.
Ali Anwar Aug 27, 2012 09:14pm
Thank you dawn this is what I was looking for. A positive article after all. good job
Osman Aug 27, 2012 07:41am
Great article... Really happy to see young entrepreneurs making a difference in Pakistan. Farming / Agriculture may just be one of the first economicly important industries to start: whether it is breeding more productive livestock or organic farming or tunnel farming. It is just awesome to see introduction of these concepts gaining momentum in Pakistan. On the broader socail front, I believe the gist of all our social, economic and political issues is "lack of education", which has created many vicious circular vices in the society: lack of productivity, close mindedness, intolerance, lack of rationality / ability to make informed decisions, reliance on others (who are equally ill informed), lack of political freedom to vote and choose honest leaders, unemployment, hatred, impatience .... and the list goes on and on. Hope that the real wave of change in Pakistan comes thru educating the masses, especially women - really liked an earlier article in Dawn giving details of how some universities in Karachi have more female students than male. Women today are going to be tomorrow's mothers, who are bound to help raise a new generation of informed, tolerant and better Pakistanis than our generation.
Kamal Gupta Aug 27, 2012 08:03am
Absolutely right. In fact, most of Northern India except for small patches near Bikaner in Rajasthan, and near Amritsar in Punjab, uses buffalo milk. Cow milk is more common in the southern states. A lot of fresh milk is fractionated and stored as skimmed milk powder and butter fat, which is then added to fresh milk to create the desired consistency i.e. skimmed milk, toned milk, double-toned milk, full cream milk etc. The reason is that fresh milk straight from the udders is never consistent in terms of fat and SNF (Solids not Fat) content. Export is hardly feasible as most countries have hygiene standards that cannot be met in tropical climates like ours. When the farmer can barely afford a fan, how does she or he provide coolers and clean water to cattle?
Ghori Aug 27, 2012 08:00am
Incredible story.. Pakistan has incredible potential, very hardworking people. great climate for dairy and agro production, availability of water, make is perfect place for agronomy. In US they are producing 10,000 lbs rice per acres. India and Pakistan do only 1/3 of it. When farmers of Punjab started to produce 10,000 lbs of rice there will be so much surplus of food that you can feed entire Africa.
nimesh Aug 30, 2012 04:03pm
Sure, but this piece was primarily about creating export revenue for pakistan by trading in the commodities market; and not domestic supply. Providing huge south asian populations with oragnic milk is a pie in the sky idea. A more modest but far more effective objective would be convincing middlemen not to sell urea laced products to the final consumer.
bkt Aug 28, 2012 01:54pm
India has a lot to offer Pakistan in terms of knowhow. An uncle of a cousin came from India with a simple daal based solution for water salination. People were amazed. But the problem is that the Indian govt does not give visas easily so there is no chance of learning from India. The only learning on India that takes place in Pakistan comes from studies done at Harvard and such places in the US.
Tamilselvan Aug 27, 2012 11:25am
Iqbal must read Mr. Kurian's story on creating Amul in India. Just like him Mr. Kurian could have stayed in the west after getting his Phd from Michigan State University but he too had a dream to create a white revolution in India and came back and created the world famous Amul milk colony which has become a standard study at Harvard. Here farm cooperatives are setup and milk is collected on a daily basis. Amul has competion from Nestle and other companies but now apart from milk, they produce butter, ghee, chaz and flavoured milk and other milk derived products. Maybe Mr. Iqbal and Pakistan should send few people here and spend few months and study in detail and get a similar system going. Good luck Mr. Iqbal. Best wishes for your efforts and to make the farmers live with their heads high and maybe they would carry plough instead of mullah inspired guns!
azam Sep 05, 2012 01:07pm
May Allah give the understanding to our leaders so our bright people can return back and make Pakistan as a dream country to live. I hope more brave people can come back and explore other things
Ali Aug 27, 2012 11:02pm
All the best Shahzad Saheb
MOHAMMAD Aug 27, 2012 11:07pm
DEAR IQBAL hope allah helps you and you succeed in your mission...aaameeen
ragu Aug 27, 2012 06:12am
Pakistan should try to venture like Amul (India).
Faizan Sep 07, 2012 12:25pm
Thats really good...Best of Luck