In a bid to scale up its dairy production to become self-sufficient, Sri Lanka has sought technical assistance from India’s National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and market leader Amul, reviving a collaboration that the island attempted in the late-1990s, but failed to take forward.

Officials from Sri Lanka’s Agriculture Ministry and National Livestock Development Board held a “preliminary discussion” with visiting Indian authorities from the NDDB, the President’s media division said on Monday. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed a committee with representatives from Sri Lanka’s public and private sectors to work with the NDDB and “prepare a short-, medium- and long-term plan to increase local milk production to reduce the country’s dependence on imported milk powder,” his office said in a statement.

The partnership is not new to Sri Lanka, where former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga invited India’s “milk man” Verghese Kurien to set up the ‘Kiriya’ dairy project, named after the Sinhala word for milk. A $20-million joint venture between the NDDB and Sri Lanka’s MILCO was announced, but the project did not take off, in the wake of resistance from nationalist worker unions and powerful business lobbies in Sri Lanka.

Dairy imports

Currently, Sri Lanka’s domestic dairy production meets less than half its requirement. The dollar-strapped island nation spends about $300 million annually on dairy imports, mostly from New Zealand. As the country’s economy crashed earlier this year, leading to severe shortages, milk powder — widely used in Sri Lanka where fresh milk is scarce — was unavailable to most.

With living costs soaring through the year, milk products — locally produced or imported — remain out of reach for many poor families. They have been forced to ration their dairy intake, with adults switching to plain tea and children drinking milk fewer times a day. UHT milk costs nearly LKR 500 (roughly ₹111) a litre, while one kg of milk powder rose to LKR 1,300 this year (about ₹290).

Apart from India, Sri Lanka is also exploring greater collaboration with New Zealand, its main source of dairy imports for four decades now. According to a Colombo-based official, New Zealand’s dairy cooperative Fonterra has in recent years expanded its Sri Lanka business. It has been building partnerships with Sri Lankan farmers, and “is considering how to expand this when conditions allow”, the official said.

Meera Sreenivasan is The Hindu Correspondent in Colombo