Milk matters: 
enhancing returns from pastoral milk

India has substantial livestock populations, including the 1st, 2nd and 3rd largest populations of cattle (192 million), goats (148 million) and sheep (74 million) in the world. The livestock sector contributes 4% to India’s GDP and employs 8% of the labour force. This includes both pastoral and non-pastoral populations. Therefore, neither data on animal numbers nor on economic contribution is segregated with reference to pastoralism. There are, however, pointers to the relative importance of pastoralism in this larger picture.
A Rabari herder gathers milk from his camels in Kachchh © Nipun Prabhakar 
Of India’s total cattle population in 2012, just over 20% consisted of exotic breeds while the remainder were indigenous. Each of the major cattle breeds –Gir, Sahiwal, Rathi, Tharparkar, Jaffrabadi, Murrah – emerged out of pastoral systems. Similarly, the bulk of India’s sheep and camel populations are maintained by pastoralists, slightly less so in the case of goats.

The true contribution of pastoralists to a region’s economy, however, is much higher than what might be calculated within the pastoral system itself. By way of illustration, dairies in Mumbai and Gujarat buy the bulk of their animals from herds managed by pastoralists in Kachchh. Thus, while the Maldhari pastoralists of the Banni grassland, Kachchh, have an annual turnover of Rs 125 crore from the sale of milk, the district of Kachchh generates a turnover of Rs 500 crore. This is premised almost entirely on pastoralist animals maintained by the region’s agricultural communities.
Two numbers point to potential rather than current contributions to the Indian economy. The bulk of wool used by India’s hosiery sector is imported. Only a small fraction of the wool produced by 74 million sheep in the country is currently consumed by industry. There are technological and design issues related to Indian sheep wool but solving these challenges points to the huge potential that might be tapped in advancing shepherd livelihoods.

There is a growing demand for goat cheese in urban India that is met almost entirely through imports. And yet India has the second largest population of goats in the world, with no current attempts at mainstreaming the use of goat milk. The point is that India has the largest livestock population in the world with no systematic investments by state or private agencies towards building up pastoralist livelihoods.

Based on work experience with the buffalo rearing Maldharis of the Banni grassland in Kachchh - who now export 100,000 litres of milk a day and have generated a 125 crore rupee economy - CfP is working with partner organizations in Rajasthan and Gujarat to initiate and streamline the procurement of camel and goat milk. We are currently focussed on four locations: Kachchh and Surendranagar in Gujarat and the Pokharan-Bajju-Chimana and Alwar regions of Rajasthan.
A Jat herder taking out milk cans to the Mahi dairy, Banni, Kachchh © Nipun Prabhakar
As milk spoils easily if not refrigerated, there is a need for investments in infrastructure including Bulk Milk Chillers (BMC) at the collection point and refrigerated trucks to transport such milk to centralized processing plants. We work closely with Amul and its District Milk Unions, with Rajasthan Cooperative Dairy Federation (RCDF) and private entrepreneurs to identify locations where they can establish collection centres equipped with BMCs. Ideally, such a location should have an adequate supply of milk coupled with an NGO interested in working with the community towards ensuring hygienic, timely supply of milk to the collection centre.

Camel milk collection is underway in Kachchh by both Aadvik Foods
and Amul’s Sarhad Dairy, with Aadvik marketing a variety of camel milk products including chocolate, soap, powder, etc. Sarhad Dairy’s camel milk procurement is substantially higher than Aadvik’s, as presented in this document (hyperlink to our Camel brochure). Amul is involved in the marketing of liquid milk across Gujarat and camel chocolates across the country. Aadvik is currently experimenting with the procurement of goat milk in Surendranagar, largely targeting export markets in Europe and the US. 

The procurement of camel milk in Kachchh has resulted in a number of significant impacts. Households with an average herd size of 40 animals are earning around Rs. 20,000 a month. At last count, 22 young herders who had moved to cities in search of alternative employment have returned to herding and have invested capital in rebuilding family herds. In contrast with the secular decline in camel numbers in Rajasthan, the Kachhch camel population has seen a 15% growth in 2020. Herders see this as an investment that can provide reasonable returns while also assuring them of a dignity that was missing as truck driver assistants.

Further progress will depend on the successes of various agencies in marketing liquid camel and goat milk procured from Gujarat, and in procuring and marketing camel and goat milk from herders in Rajasthan.
  • Camel milk dairy plant in Kachchh © Nipun Prabhakar
  • A herder loads milk onto the van at a mahi dairy collection centre © Nipun Prabhakar

Partners and types of collaborations


Procuring camel milk


Procuring goat milk


Procuring and marketing camel and goat milk

Aadvik Foods Pvt. Ltd.

Procuring and marketing camel and goat milk

RRA Network

Advocacy linked to the procurement of camel milk


Production and the marketing of specialized pastoral cheeses
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