With the dairy sector falling under essential service, dairy farmers, milk collectors, manufacturers and distributors are functioning irrespective of the 21-day nation-wide lockdown that is being observed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In fact, the chief suppliers are putting in more hours to ensure that the supply of milk during the period is not disrupted. The producers, however, are noticing erratic demand owing, perhaps, to reverse migration and shutting down of restaurants.
The Bengaluru Urban, Rural and Ramanagara district Cooperative Milk Producers Societies Union Ltd (BAMUL), the city’s main supplier, is working overtime. Coming under the umbrella of the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF), it is known for its Nandini brand of milk, curd and other milk products including sweetmeats and ice creams.
BAMUL’s field officers, whose working hours are from 9.30 am and 5.30 pm, have been working since 4 am till late night ever since the lockdown started. “They have been staying past 8 or 9 in the night, with so many workers sleeping in the dairy quarters itself,” said S Gowramma, an officer at BAMUL.
“People have gone back to their villages and towns due to the pandemic scare, hence there is an excess supply of milk,” Gowramma pointed out. The collection and production, however, remains the same.
In accordance with orders from the Karnataka Government, Bengaluru Dairy is supplying the excess produce to BBMP, whose officials are distributing it among the poor in their respective wards. A general manager at BAMUL confirmed that 1.75 lakh litres of milk is being supplied to the needy, through the BBMP.
The officer, who wished to remain unnamed, affirmed the staff’s strict adherence to the prescribed social distancing norms. “We have handed out masks to all of our employees and sanitizers are available throughout the premises. There has also been regular checking of temperatures of employees prior to their entry into offices,” he noted.
“We were selling over 9.5 lakh litres of milk before, which has reduced to 7.6 lakh in the recent weeks. As per our initial estimates, we are facing an average reduction of 1.5 lakh litres,” the officer revealed. Noting that there is enough supply to conveniently meet the present demand, he attributed the fall to “people moving away from the city before the lockdown was announced and institutions and hotels being shut.”
Being an essential service, all operations are functioning to full potential and all BAMUL staff are working, said the GM. “Their regular reception of 14.5 lakh litres of milk from farmers in neighbouring villages has also remained unchanged,” he said.
At the last-mile end of the supply chain, BAMUL agent N. Nagaraj, who ensures door-to-door delivery, said supply to individual houses has stopped. He, however, continues to supply to shops and milk booths. “We do not provide milk to anyone without putting on masks, and keeping a distance. We also urge our customers to wear masks while buying the milk,” he said. There has been no hitch with either labour or transportation during the lockdown, he said.
Mother Diary, also a unit of the Karnataka Milk Federation, has reduced working hours due to the lockdown. “We have halved the working hours of our staff in lieu of the social distancing norms. People putting in more hours have been paid for their overtime,” said HC Gangadhar, senior deputy director at Mother Dairy.
Commenting on the erratic demand, he said that before the Coronavirus outbreak in February, their daily average sale was 3,70,000 litres of milk and 60,000 litres of curd. This has come down by 20-30,000 litres for milk and by 15,000 litres for curd. “People have moved away from the city. But we have been procuring the same amount as before from the farmers” he said.
About how smooth distribution could be achieved, Gangadhar said their operation received full support from the police. “We received the entire 1,100 passes we had asked for, including employee, two and four-wheeler passes.” He vouched for his staff maintaining physical distance and hygiene. “We have a health centre on the premises where the employees are constantly screened by the medical staff,” he said adding that basics like masks and sanitisers have been abundantly provisioned.
Even private milk supply firms have continued operations during the lockdown. Akshaya Kalpa a Bengaluru-based farmer entrepreneurship initiative founded in 2010, is a supplier of organic milk and milk products. Having received the go-ahead from the Police Commissioner this enterprise has maintained uninterrupted supply all through the lockdown. In fact, the demand for its organic milk surged during the period.
Chudamani K C, the customer support head, said “The demand was so high that we had to stop our intake of new customers for a week, as our current delivery staff could not handle the sheer volume. We resumed our registrations after new delivery staff was hired.”
Prior to the lockdown, the organisation would sell 18,000 litres of milk a day, which rose to 25,000 litres in the past two weeks. Staff have been provided with masks, gloves and encouraged to regularly use hand sanitisers in the wake of the pandemic. “The supplies have been going on smoothly, they have provided us with masks and gloves. Workers haven’t stopped coming due to the lockdown” said Girish Kumar M, delivery executive at Akshaya Kalpa.