Livelihood:  There is milk in excess in Trashigang.

With production at the Koufuku International Pvt Ltd (KIPL) dairy processing plant suspended for about a month, few dairy groups in Trashigang are struggling to market their milk.

Dairy groups of Bikhar, Buna, Radhi and Changmey supply about 500 liters of milk everyday to KIPL from a collection center located at Buna. Without any collection for sometime, dairy group members said it is affecting their livelihood.

The caretaker of Buna collection center, Sonam Tobgay, said they have started processing local cheese and butter from the milk collected. However, marketing these produces has become an issue.

“Although we have started marketing cheese and butter to Thimphu and Bumthang, we are still left with huge quantities of surplus by the end of every week,” he said. “Transportation is another problem that impedes marketing since we have to wait for the cool boxes to reach back.”

For instance, the collection center produces about 21 kilogram of butter and 350 balls of cheese everyday of which about 50 percent is sold on a good day. The surplus has to be stored in the chillers for days.

Unlike in the past, Sonam Tobgay said a lot of farmers heavily depend on dairy farming today. Most farmers in Buna and Bikhar have hung up their plough and rely on dairy produces for their living, he added.

“Most of us no longer cultivate crops anymore while our fields have turned into jungles. If KIPL keep suspending collections, we are in trouble,” he said.

Given the lesser income, dairy farmers said they are finding difficulty in paying their monthly installments for the loan that they availed while procuring Jersey cows.

“We managed to pay the installment this time but we are more concerned on how we would manage next time if the suspension of milk collections continues,” Ngawang, a dairy group member said. “We have an agreement for one year with KIPL and it has been roughly eight months.”

Tshogpa of Radhi dairy group, Ngawang Tshering said they have stopped dropping milk at the collection center at Buna after the suspension of milk collections by KIPL.

“We have to pay Nu 15,000 every month to hire a Bolero to reach milk at Buna and when the company suspends collections, we thought it was best to process cheese and butter and sell it within the locality,” he said.

Meanwhile, Operations Manager of KIPL, Sanjok Biswakarma said production has been halted because the production house is currently undergoing restoration and maintenance works.

“We are almost done with the restoration works and expecting to resume production by next week. But, we must also test our machines first,” he said.

Given that the company would be undergoing few days of maintenance activities in future as well, Sanjok Biswakarma said that farmers should also make arrangements to market their milk at the local market in the form of cheese and butter.

“It may not be possible for us to collect milk when maintenance works are happening because we cannot store milk for a long time, which otherwise would compromise the quality of Gouda cheese,” he said.

Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang