Empowering Farmers to control mastitis

Originally published on April 21, 2017.

, are middlemen operating in the dairy sector of Bangladesh, traders who procure milk from several or many smallholder farmers and sell it either to distant (by rural Bangladesh standards) milk collection centers, or to city markets. As dairy companies procure less than 10% of total milk produced in Bangladesh, gowalas are in a strong position. While noting that an informal market is better than no market, gowalas are not always a good thing. For instance, as they procure milk from many farmers, by the time it gets to milk chilling centers it may be several hours old.

The resulting poor quality of milk, and its economic value, combine to tempt some gowalas to adulterate the milk, either to delay the process of fermentation or sometimes to extend milk (increase the volume by adding water, vegetable fats, lactose alternatives or products which appear as protein when the milk is tested). Many gowalas make as much money from extending credit as they do from milk trading, and this may be on terms which exploit poor farmers. In the southwestern Division of Khulna, gowalas offer another service: it is common that gowalas milk the cows of the farmers from whom they buy milk.

An unappreciated consequence of gowalas doing the milking is that these middlemen are spreading mastitis as they go from cow to cow and herd to herd. Lack of knowledge may be one cause of poor milking practices and hence the spread of mastitis, but lack of concern is likely to be another factor.

Treatment of infected cows is problematic, owing to delayed detection and then high treatment cost. In too many cases, farmers don’t treat the infected cows, rather the infection is hidden and the cow sold, with the next farmer in line not achieving the productivity expected, and instead facing unexpected costs. The purchase of an infected cows is likey to lead to the spread of mastitis among his/her other cows.

Very surprisingly, many farmers in Khulna Division do not know how to milk their cows, as gowalas have always done this for them. This is an unexpected factor limiting milk supply to milk collection centers newly established by our dairy company partners. Farmers feel that choice is not available to them owing to the tradition of gowala milking.

To enable farmer choice, the USDA-funded Bangladesh Dairy Enhancement Project (BDEP) introduced training (on the farms of the trainees) by some of the local farmers who are able to milk, after they demonstrated satisfactory milking practices to BDEP (especially squeezing the teat rather than pulling, and hygiene protocols). While designed to enable farmer choice as to whom they sell milk, this training has the extra benefit of limiting the spread of mastitis. Additionally, as part of our fight against mastitis, BDEP provides training in improved farm management practices to reduce outbreaks of this infection, and has introduced the California Mastitis Test for early detection and hence earlier and cheaper treatment. This training has succeeded in increasing the proportion of farmers who are able to milk their cows themselves. This innovation has created enthusiasm among the farmers, specially the female farmers who are the key performers of animal husbandry activities in rural Bangladesh.

BDEP strongly believes this training in effective and hygienic milking  will have very positive impact on the economy through protecting the overall dairy sector from the great losses which occur from mastitis. To date, 400  local smallholders, mostly female farmers, have received  training, and BDEP has  28 trainers working hard to boost this number.

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