KARACHI: Have you ever wondered where the milk in packaged dairy products comes from? In case you assumed that big food companies maintained their own dairy farms that generated thousands of litres of milk daily and remained insulated from fluctuations in open market rates, you are wide of the mark.
In fact, only 5% of about 1.2 million litres of milk that Engro Foods collects every day for its dairy segment during the flush season – from January to April each year when fodder is available in abundance and milk production is high – comes from its own corporate farm located in Sukkur.
The rest of the milk supplies during the flush season and the summer, when milk production drops by roughly 50%, comes from about 15,000 small farmers scattered between Sanghar and Jhang districts, an area of 135,000 square kilometres.
Streamlined under Engro Milk Automation Network (EMAN), Engro Foods maintains a sales force of 1,500 people across 1,200 villages in Sindh and Punjab. They collect milk, mostly in small quantities, from farmers between 6:00am and 9:30am every day, which is then transported for further processing.
But why would a villager with just a few cattle sell the excess quantity of milk to Engro Foods instead of the traditional milk contractors known as dodhis?
According to Aamir Khawas, who works as head of milk procurement and agri services at Engro Foods, doing business with a large food company offers small farmers a number of benefits. “Animals are susceptible to diseases. Our network of veterinarians ensures sick animals receive immediate treatment. That’s a benefit no traditional milk contractor can offer,” he said.
Moreover, the moment a farmer sells milk to an Engro representative, in whatever small quantity, the transaction is recorded electronically in a centralised database by swiping the EMAN card that each of the 15,000 suppliers carries.
The availability of real-time data ensures that money is transferred to the farmer the day the transaction takes place. This is in contrast to the past practice of issuing receipts on paper that took at least a week before a transaction was recorded and payment processed.
In addition, Engro’s advisory service helps farmers increase milk production. “There’re two ways for a farmer to increase his revenue. If he gets Rs41 instead of Rs40 per litre, his revenue increases by Re1. But if the milk output increases by one litre, his revenue increases by Rs40. We help him do the latter,” Khawas said.
So how does Engro ensure that the milk is pure? “It’s very easy. We pay farmers not on the litres of milk they bring to us. Rather, the basis of payment is total solid contents of the milk,” he said, explaining that milk consists of three things – water, fat and solid non-fat (SNF). Total solid contents are the sum of fat and SNF.
“It’s hard to adulterate when the quantity is low. So no matter how much water you add, the solid contents can easily be determined by running a few tests,” he said.
A total of 13 tests are carried out when a farmer hands over milk to an Engro representative. It is picked up from there by an Engro van that carries out another 20 tests on the collected milk. It then reaches the regional office where 30 more tests are done to check its quality. Eventually, milk is taken to the Engro plant where the final 40 tests take place before it is processed, packaged and dispatched to the retail market.
With the demand of milk increasing by 15% annually and supply rising by just 2% a year in Pakistan, the dairy sector looks like a heaven for investment. The Sukkur farm of Engro Foods has already grown 10 times since its inception with about 3,000 cows. “Yet we’re looking for a major expansion in the near future.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.