With 16 dairy farmers’ groups in its 11 gewogs, Samdrupjongkhar today is more than self-sufficient in milk production, dzongkhag officials say.

Excess milk production has also led to farmers exporting milk to border town of Assam in India.

The dairy groups comprise of 732 households from eight gewogs, which together produce over 3,000 liters of milk every day. Among them Orong gewog, which has seven dairy farmers’ group produces the highest, 1,000 liters followed by Dewathang and Gomdar gewogs.

Dewathang has three groups and the daily production capacity is around 800 liters, while Gomdar’s lone dairy group yields around 700 liters of milk a day. Other gewogs like Martshala, Langchenphug, Phuntshothang, Pemathang and Wangphu collect between 100 to 200 liters of milk daily.

Farmers sell milk across the border town due to lack of domestic demand. The targeted market for gewogs like Orong, Dewathang, Gomdar and Wangphu is Mela Bazaar, Daranga in Assam, the border town of Samdrupjongkhar.

However, four other gewogs such as Martshala, Langchenphug, Pemathang and Phuntshothang sell their product in an Indian border town called Dimakoshi near Samrang under Samdrup Choling drungkhag.

From as early as 3am to late afternoon, farmers travel until Kumarikata about 12 kilometers away from the border gate to sell milk.

Those from nearby places like Dewathang and Martang get done with their work before noon, while those from distant places like Orong, Jangchubling and Wooling take until the late afternoon to sell off the milk.

While some sell it to the contacts they have established, most farmers deliver to the homes of the customers. They honk and go around the settlement along the highway. Minutes later, residents gather around the marketing van with containers. Each family buys between half to three liters.

Kelzang Phuntsho, a member and the sales representative of Jangchubling milk group said it’s been about a month the group has been returning with left over milk (40 liters) after the group’s contract agent denied to take their milk.

To address these issue, the farmers’ groups have started rushing early. “Milk is used for tea by most and if you fail to make it on time, everyone would have left for work,” said Ngawang of Martang Dairy farmer’s group in Dewathang.

While the farmers’ hard work pays off, an issue they face is not being able to dispose all the products in the market.

Farmers say that rampant strikes in Assam that lead to closure of the border gate affect them the most. Irregular power supply also affects milk storage coolers at the milk collection centers.

There is no formal marketing strategy adopted. It is either done through personal relations with individuals and hotels or sold door to door.

To address the problem, the dzongkhag livestock sector is in the process of installing a milk processing plant in Dewathang.

According to dzongkhag livestock officials, most of the equipment is ready, and a tendering process is due soon. The about Nu 3Million project is funded by IFAD under CARLEP project, and the construction of single-storied concrete structure and installation of equipment is expected to complete in eight months.

The processing plant will comprise of a bulk milk cooler, chiller and display refrigerator among others. All forms of dairy products like bottled pasteurised milk, cheese, butter, and gradually yogurt and ice cream would be produced at the plant.

A reasonable rate for each product would be fixed upon discussion among the chairman of the concerned group and sold at the sale counter, which would be opened in Samdrupjongkhar town, according to assistant dzongkhag livestock officer Chophel.

The milk processing plant in Dewathang would be another large processing plant in the east after Chenari, Trashigang established one through the same funding.

Tshering Namgyal | Samdrupjongkhar