Agriculture has long been the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, and within this sector, the livestock and dairy industry has emerged as a potent player. With a 60.56 per cent share in agriculture and contributing 11.69 per cent to the GDP in 2020, this sub-sector has grown by 2.58 per cent despite facing numerous challenges. Pakistan is among the top five producers of milk in the world. However, this sector remains largely untapped, with over 94 per cent of the sector operating outside the formal economy and tax net. The Rs14 billion informal milk economy is too large to be ignored. This article delves into the potential of the livestock and dairy sector in Pakistan, emphasising how its organisation can generate revenue for the government while discussing the achievements of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in developing this sector in Punjab from 2013 to 2018.
PML-N Achievements in Punjab (2013-2018)
Despite being the largest sub-sector in agriculture, the livestock and dairy sector has been historically neglected, receiving only a fraction of the resources allocated to other sectors. However, during its tenure in Punjab, the PML-N government led by Mian Shehbaz Sharif made substantial contributions to the livestock and dairy sector. Key initiatives included:
Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Policy 2014: This policy aimed to increase livestock productivity, improve the quality of livestock products, and promote industry development.
Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Programme: Launched in 2015 with a budget of Rs30 billion, this programme provided financial support to farmers, improved veterinary services, and promoted value-added processing.
Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Board: Established in 2014, this board oversaw the implementation of the Livestock and Dairy Development Policy and Programme. Together with Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company, the board took several initiatives to tap the economic potential of this sector.
Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s keen interest in this sector energised the teams working under him. As a result of these initiatives, Punjab witnessed significant growth in milk and meat production, contributing to food security and rural livelihoods.
In addition, the Punjab Food Authority announced in 2017 that loose milk sales would be banned in the province within five years due to milk’s susceptibility to pathogens and the risks it poses to public health. On the direction of CM Shehbaz Sharif, a pilot project was initiated to develop a cold-storage chain and provide packaged pasteurised milk to consumers in Model Bazars in Lahore after collecting it from cattle owners in Bhalwal, Sargodha.
Unfortunately, when the PTI government took over, these initiatives, programmes, and projects were shelved and once again this sector fell victim to government apathy.
An estimated 94 per cent of the dairy sector currently operates outside the tax net, representing a significant untapped revenue source.
This negligence of the livestock and dairy sector is reflected in low per-animal yields, which are six times less than those in developed countries. Additionally, approximately 15 per cent of the total milk produced goes to waste due to a lack of milk chillers and cold chain infrastructure.
Sustainable dairy production in Pakistan: challenges and solutions
- Dairy production systems: Pakistan’s dairy production systems can be classified into traditional and modern. While modern systems employ high-yielding cows and advanced practices, more than 80 per cent of milk producers are either small-scale traditional operations or landless farmers possessing one to five animals. Promoting modern dairy farming practices can significantly boost milk productivity and commercialisation.
- Feeding practices: The level of animal malnutrition in Pakistan’s informal livestock economy is very high. In addition, fungi-infected feeds such as khal can make milk toxic. Limited access to quality feed resources is a major challenge in this sector. Implementing strategies like balanced rations, hay and silage making, and mineral supplementation can improve dairy production.
- Breeding strategies: The lack of genetic diversity among the national dairy genetic resources hampers small-scale farmers’ ability to increase milk production. Facilitating AI services, breeding programmes, and capacity building can address this issue.
- Housing practices: Improving housing systems by considering climate, feed and water availability, space, hygiene, and cost-effectiveness can enhance animal health and welfare, thereby increasing milk production.
- Healthcare and welfare: Access to veterinary healthcare, better nutrition, and improved animal welfare practices are essential to enhance dairy animal health and productivity. Policy interventions and training programmes can play a pivotal role in this regard.
- Public health concerns: Addressing issues like antibiotic residues, milk adulteration, and milk contamination through regulation, improved testing facilities and public awareness campaigns are crucial for public health.
- Value addition: Pakistan produced over 58 million tons in 2022. However, the majority of the milk is consumed fresh. Investing in modern processing facilities and technologies, improving the milk supply chain, and promoting the consumption of value-added dairy products through marketing and education campaigns can increase this sector’s profitability. Quality products such as cheese, yoghurt, butter, ghee, cream, dairy-based desserts can also be exported.
- Dairy marketing system: The unorganised private sector controls milk production and marketing in Pakistan, with only 5 per cent of milk marketed through proper channels. Strengthening regulatory frameworks, improving market linkages, and promoting commercialisation can enhance the dairy marketing system.
- Environmental Sustainability: The dairy industry’s waste disposal practices contribute to soil and water pollution. Implementing sustainable farming practices and improving waste management is vital for environmental sustainability.
- Labour force and livelihood options: The dairy sector provides income to millions of rural households, but challenges such as low productivity and limited market access persist. Multi-stakeholder efforts, including government support and the development of value-added products, can enhance livelihood options.
The Way Forward
To fully unlock the potential of the livestock and dairy sector in Pakistan, it is crucial to recognise it as an independent sector and allocate sufficient resources. Proposed measures include improving breed quality, addressing nutritional deficiencies, enhancing healthcare facilities, and developing organised marketing systems. Additionally, fiscal incentives, low-interest credit for farmers, and support for landless farmers, particularly women, can promote sector development.
Moreover, bringing the informal economy within the tax net is essential. An estimated 94 per cent of the sector currently operates outside the tax net, representing a significant untapped revenue source. Streamlining and regulating this sector will not only ensure efficiency but also contribute substantially to Pakistan’s economy.
The livestock and dairy sector in Pakistan has immense potential for growth and revenue generation. The PML-N’s achievements in Punjab from 2013 to 2018 demonstrate the positive impact of focused government initiatives. With concerted efforts, public-private partnerships, and a commitment to organisation and regulation, Pakistan can harness this sector’s potential for the benefit of its economy, rural communities, and public health. If PML-N comes to power in provinces and the centre, Pakistan can achieve this dream in a short time.
The writer is a dairy value chain expert.