With the onset of COVID-19 pandemic came along a massive economic crisis which languished the national and international markets. Addressing the scenario, considering the Agriculture sector, A Sreenivas, Managing Director, Haryana Dairy Federation interacted with Elets News Network (ENN) in an exclusive webinar.
While addressing the session themed ‘Challenges of Combating COVID: Initiatives Taken and Use of Technology’, Mr Sreenivas called the Coronavirus pandemic a significant challenge and said, “The pandemic has posed a test of time. However, we have been trying to provide milk safely to every household in the state during the lockdown.”
Speaking on the initial challenges faced by the authorities following the lockdown announcements, he said, “In the first few days of the lockdown there were a lot of issues we faced. Firstly, the farmers were afraid to move out of their houses and this resulted in the decline in procurement. Simultaneously, the sales crashed as the food businesses had been closed due to the lockdown.” However, the federation educated the people about the virus spread and the lockdown norms. Following this, the dairy farmers started coming out and poured milk for further processing and distribution to the people, he added.
Also, as milk is an essential commodity, the state took all the measures possible to help the farmers to ensure the production is not hampered. Processing units were taken care of to ensure safe and adequate processing of milk. Moreover, distribution was also aided, told Mr Sreenivas.
Adding on he said, “If I talk about the entire COVID era situation, the first impact was on the private dairy farms. The private sector dairy farms’ major distribution was to hotels, restaurants which were shut due to lockdown. Hence, the farmers who were selling milk to these private companies had no choice but to approach the government.” Therefore, following the directions from the Chief Minister’s Office, the Federation started procuring milk from these farmers. However, in usual times this practice is not encouraged, added Mr Sreenivas.
Quoting figures, he said, “The procurement prior to COVID was three lakh litres on a daily basis, whereas, the procurement in the COVID era touched 6.5 lakh litres count.” The figures are evident enough to assume the financial pressure on the Federation during the crisis. At one hand the sales dropped massively, and on the other hand, the procurement doubled, he added.
Technology to Rescue
Speaking on the issues faced for the distribution of milk and the technological solutions to aid in the challenging times, Mr Sreenivas said, “During the lockdown people were not allowed to come out to buy milk, hence, we had to tie up with private agencies like Swiggy to supply the milk to the locality level from where people can collect further.”
Further, he said, “Considering our marketing, not much of the technology was put to use except for the fact that we tied up with Swiggy to meet the distribution challenges.” Besides this, he underlined the fact that Haryana Dairy Federation do not have a door to door distribution system in place, unlike the other federations.
Impact of COVID on Milk Industry
Throwing light on the impact of COVID on the milk industry, Mr Sreenivas told the attendees, “Milk production, irrespective of COVID, requires a sanitised and germ-free environment. So the workers were already sanitising, using protective gears, hats, and gloves. However, with the onset of COVID and following the instructions from the Health Ministry, we have increased our sanitising capabilities, thermal scanners we were using to check body temperatures, the vehicles entering the plant premises were sprayed with sanitisers, and hand sanitisers were distributed to the workers as well.”
When questioned on the reaction of farmers on the 25 percent decline observed in the consumption of milk nationwide, he said, “The farmers perspective is entirely a different story. They are concerned about their milk getting procured. And, the Haryana Dairy Federation is procuring all the milk farmers are willing to sell. Therefore, farmers are quite relaxed with that. However, when it comes to the sales aspect, it is the federation which is taking the hit.”
Addin on he said, “But, as the sales have declined and the revenue for the Federation is on the same track, the payments which we make to the farmers get prolonged. This is one of the aspects where farmers are affected.”
Answering a question on the assurance of physical distancing is being adhered to while distribution, Mr Sreenivas said, “The prior instructions have been given to the workers regarding the physical distancing norms. Moreover, sensitisation of the workers and the people are being carried through, advertisements, newspapers, etc.” He further told that all the 500 booths operating under the Federation have sanitising facilities installed to ensure cleanliness.