Local farmers reject move to import 2,500 dairy cows

  • Cite high costs, preferential treatment of large companies, likelihood of bovine disease

By Dinitha Rathnayake

The Government’s decision to import 2,500 dairy heifers to boost milk production is not acceptable, according to All-Ceylon Farmers’ Federation National Organiser Namal Karunaratne.

Speaking to The Morning, he alleged that the Government is only trying to protect multinational companies by providing such facilities, stating: “These companies have been offered 8,000 hectares to accommodate these heifers. I don’t think we have to spend money to bring dairy heifers; instead, we can bring down sperm for a low cost.”

State Minister of Livestock D.B. Herath said that 2,500 dairy heifers will be imported soon to increase local milk production, and permission has been granted to four private companies to import the dairy heifers.

He further claimed that four lands each in the Kandy and Kurunegala Districts have also been allocated for this purpose, and that the Government will provide the relevant concessions for the importation and maintenance of livestock.

According to Karunaratne, in an effort to improve dairy-based production in the country, Cabinet approval was previously granted to a proposal to import 20,000 dairy heifers from Australia in 2017.

The project was first approved in June 2014, where the contract for the supply of dairy cattle was also signed by the former Minister of Economic Development with Wellard Rural Exports (Ltd.), Australia, on 4 October 2014.

“5,000 heifers were brought down under this agreement, and this decision opened the path for diseases like Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD), which is a viral disease of cattle and other ruminants,” he stated.

In 2017, the Ministry of Rural Economic Development began importing 20,000 cows from Wellard Rural Exports Pvt. Ltd. However, 21 of these cows were traced to have been suffering from BVD virus infection, which was revealed at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) appointed by the current administration to investigate corruption.

Then Department of Animal Production and Health Director S.S.P. Silva, while testifying before the Commission, informed that in Australia, the BVD virus had been identified as “the dairy industry’s silent killer”, because it is a major reproductive pathogen in cattle, and had said that the infection leads to poor conception rates, abortion, and congenital defects among cows.

He said that before the relevant research began, the imported batches from Australia had been handed over to middle-scale dairy farmers in a number of areas around the country, and when the research team started the study, they were able to identify several cows with BVD.

“However, authorities continue their attempts to import dairy heifers to the country,” said Karunaratne.

Under the aforementioned agreement, 5,000 dairy heifers were imported in 2017 and 2018, while a foreign loan valued at $ 73.9 million was obtained to finance the project. In addition, as per the agreement, an advance payment of Rs. 1.32 billion has already been paid for the import of the remaining dairy heifers, Karunaratne claimed.

He noted that even after having learned of the unfortunate situation of the 5,000 heifers that had already been imported, and even when the Government had not allocated any funds for the import of more heifers, the Ministry proceeded to pay the Australian firm Rs. 1.32 billion to import the remaining heifers.