The Sri Lankan army, involved in business and economic activity since the May 2009 end of the conflict, is aiming to be one of the country’s largest milk producers.
As it expands its contribution to GDP growth – not through salaries, wages and expenditure on military hardware but real economic activity, the army has established its own Directorate for Agriculture and Livestock to promote agriculture and dairy industry.
This department is currently negotiating with an investor to import 10,000 cows with the capacity to produce 60 litres of milk per cow per day, from an Australian company.
A comprehensive plan has been crafted to increase milk production at its Kandakadu Agriculture Farm in Welikanda spanning over 11,140 acres and transforming it to become the biggest farm in South Asia. The milk production would be made available to MILCO for distribution.
Amidst the controversy last year, spilling into 2014, of contaminated milk from imported products, a campaign was launched to increase local milk production to reach self-sufficiency, and the army’s effort is in line with the national plan.
Sri Lanka annually requires around 900 million litres of milk but has the capacity to produce only 300 million litres, just 25-30 per cent of the total need. This is despite 30 per cent of the workforce of Sri Lanka being engaged in animal farming,
The milk food import bill costs US$400 million (or more than Rs. 49 billion) a year and the government’s plan is to attain self-sufficiency in milk by 2016. Several initiatives been directed towards this target through government and private sector efforts.
The army’s latest initiative is commensurate with its role of changing the landscape of Colombo and suburban areas and other cities including Kandy as well as entry into the hospitality and tourism sectors with the advantage of cheap labour and skills of security forces personnel. While there has been some criticism of the army’s role in business and allied activity particularly since it provides stiff competition to others which offer more costly services, the military hierarchy has somewhat deflated this criticism through showpiece infrastructure development like the Colombo Racecourse, the Arcade Independence Square, beautifying parks, playgrounds and the creation of walking, cycling and jogging tracks in Colombo and the suburbs.
The Kandakadu farm was taken over by the army from the control of the LTTE and reopened in 2011. The army is in the process of using the whole land area for agriculture, livestock and diary development. So far 300 acres have been cultivated while the dairy section of the farm currently has 200 milk cows.
According to military sources, the army will provide the skilled labour for the planned joint venture project with an Australian company which will set up cool rooms.
Meanwhile in another project to enhance local milk production, the Economic Development Ministry recently signed up with the Export Finance Insurance Corporation ( EFIC) of Australia and the Rabobank, Netherlands to provide funds to import 20,000 cows. Under this, the ministry will import 20,000 cows from Wellard Rural Export Pvt. Ltd, Australia at a cost of nearly $ 74 million (more than Rs. 9.6 billion).
In addition to the Kandakadu farm, the army has farms in Ella- Kantale, Kuttigala, Diyatalawa, Paanaluwa, Habarakada, Ekala, Kandakadu, Udayarkattukulam, Menik Farm, Nachchikuda, Kohilawaguruwatta, Palali and Wellakulam areas totalling 2196 acres.
Those farms grow paddy, corn, vegetables, fruits, coconuts, sugarcane, peanuts, oranges, arecanut, cinnamon, banana, jak, seasonal crops and produce dairy products. In addition, some of those farms carry out animal husbandry, poultry and dairy cattle activity.
Troops of the Sri Lanka Army General Services Corps are actively engaged in these projects island- wide and sell the harvest to the public at reasonable price.