Imported dairy cows not for farmers: NLDB says heifers for breeding

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

The heifers to be imported to the country under the Agriculture Ministry’s “Saubhagya Project” were not to be distributed among dairy and livestock farmers but rather to farms under the National Livestock Development Board (NLDB) for breeding purposes, NLDB Chairman Prof. Manjula Magammana said.

According to him, the importation of 2,500 milch cows was one of several proposals put forward through a cabinet paper.

The 2,500 cattle are to be imported after renegotiating the loan assistance programme extended for the importation of milk cows by the Australian Government that was implemented during the tenure of the previous Sri Lankan Government.

However, the NLDB Chairman said that the Government will review a project initiated by the previous Government to import and distribute dairy cows.

The previous project was a venture initiated by the then Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa in 2014. Its aim was for Sri Lanka to achieve self-sufficiency in milk production by 2020. The agreement for $ 73 million was signed with Wellard Rural Exports (Pty.) Ltd. of Australia, to import 20,000 heifers from Australia under the previous Government in 2014. The project was then revived by Minister P. Harrison and continued by Minister Vijith Vijayamuni Soysa.

The Government brought down 2,000 heifers from New Zealand on 12 May 2017, following the Cabinet’s approval obtained on 24 March 2017; again in December 2017, 3,000 heifers were imported from Australia.

Responding to the allegations levelled against the importation of heifers, Co-Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Bandula Gunawardana alleged that the programme on the importation of heifers had been conducted in an ill-advised manner by the previous Government, with disastrous repercussions for the cows and farmers alike.

He told The Morning that around $ 312 million was spent annually for the importation of dairy products to Sri Lanka and with the launch of the new programme, the Government was expecting to uphold the local dairy industry.

Meanwhile, the dairy farmers who have been affected by the previous project have urged the Government to pay compensation.