Dairy cooperatives are helping farmers become self sufficient

A common interest to become self-sufficient has brought together a village that was once divided by wealth.

Pam chiwog in Samkhar, Trashigang operates one of the most successful dairy cooperatives in the dzongkhag today.

Some 13 years ago, people of upper Pam used to work for the well-off farmers living in lower Pam. Except for few local cattle heads the farmers had no additional means to generate income for the family.

Most children in the village left schools to support the family. Realising the hardships of his fellow villagers, Dendup, the former chairperson of the Pam Dairy Cooperative shared his idea to open a dairy group among farmers in mid 2004.

It took him almost six months to convince the villagers to start a dairy group. The idea however, received several critics from the rest of the villages including some livestock officials.

Despite the apprehensions, Dendup and a few of his friends managed to set up the dairy group and on July 2005, the group was formally launched. “We knew from the beginning that it was not easy running the group,” said the 53-year-old. “The possibilities of failure were higher than it becoming a success.”

The group started with 22 members. They bought 22 jersey cows from Pemagatshel and distributed among the members. Initially, the group produced about 45 litres of milk everyday. The milk was sold for Nu 20 a litre.

Although milk production was minimal, Dendup said that farmers in his village slowly became self-sufficient. They had stopped going to work at the neighbour’s fields and were more occupied in rearing cattle.

“Today, most of the farmers in upper Pam have bought land and constructed houses,” said Dendup. “This was all possible from the money they made from selling milk and its products.”

In 2007, the group bought 60 more jersey cows from Darjeeling, India. The dairy group became a cooperative in 2011. Today, there are about 50 members with more than 200 cattle heads. Everyday about 200 litres of milk is produced, which is sold for Nu 40 a litre in town.

The work of the cooperatives could be one of the reasons for making Trashigang produce 6,710.1 metric tonnes (MT) of milk, the highest in the country last year. Of the total 27,244 cattle heads in the dzongkhag, some 12,832 milch were involved in the production of milk.

Recently, one of the members of Pam Dairy Cooperative, Sonam Gyeltshen and his wife are busy chopping banana trunks to feed their cattle. Of the four jerseys the couple owns, only one is lactating. “It is not much but it’s enough,” said 53-year-old Sonam.

Sonam earns at least Nu 5,000 a month from the sale of milk. The cooperative gives the members Nu 28 a litre for the milk. Members with more cows make about Nu 18,000 a month.

However, shortage of feed for the cattle remains the biggest challenge for the cooperative today. “The quantity and quality of milk depends on the kind of food that the cattle are fed,” said Sonam Gyeltshen. “Without a continuous source of feed for the cattle, it is difficult to produce more milk.”

Dendup said that proper guidance to enable continuous source of feed for the cattle is required. “Currently, cooperatives like us doesn’t have a guiding agency that would address such emerging challenges,” he said. “We have received almost 70 percent of support from the government. We would appreciate if the additional 30 percent is also given so that we can operate on our own in future.”

He said that the cooperative has helped farmers in the village become self-sufficient and has also contributed to the local economy. With two graduates and a class V dropout working with the cooperative, it has also created employment opportunities in the gewog.

With over 875 members, there are about 37 dairy farmers group in Trashigang of which only about 22 are operational today. Livestock officials said that almost 90 percent of rural population in the dzongkhag are involved in dairy production.

Of the total 6,710.1MT of milk produced last year, 4,755.97MT were used for the production of cheese, butter and fermented cheese. About 25.32MT were kept from self-consumption by the farmers.

Younten Tshedup |  Trashigang