Young dairy farmer Shailendra Singh Totaram, who lives in Triolet, northern
Mauritius, grew up with cows. For years, his grandparents and parents kept cattle to supplement their income. But a combination of increased urbanisation and the advent of cheap imported powdered milk forced them to give up their livestock. Two decades on, Shailendra, now 28, has revived the family dairy business, making it bigger and better than ever.

Shailendra keeps 20 cows in a concrete cowshed outside the village. He took up dairy farming last year following training from the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU). He sells his entire daily output of 200 l to a local food processor. "I want to enhance the value of this job and become the best farmer in the island", he says. Then, talking to one of his cows, he urges: "Eat my friend, you have to give plenty of milk."

Shailendra is one of a number of young entrepreneurs to have taken up dairy farming in the past year or so, encouraged by a range of incentives offered in an attempt to revive Mauritius' flagging industry. With milk production levels down to just 2% of local demand, the country's aim is to restore the sector and produce 10% of consumer requirements by 2015. Traditionally, the dairy industry in Mauritius was dominated by backyard producers, mostly women. But many of them abandoned farming in the 1980s to take higher paid jobs in the textile and clothing manufacturing industry. Powdered milk did the rest, making the island largely dependent on imports. As a result, the country's herds dropped from 25,000 heads to the current figure of 5,500 and from 10,000 small breeders to just 1,750.

To stimulate dairy production, the government has introduced a battery of grants and loans to purchase equipment, import improved genetic breeds and acquire land for grazing. Ten other young dairy farmers recently joined the Cowbreeders Cooperative Society at Nouvelle Découverte, in the centre of the island. Together they produce about 1500 l a day. Since small-scale milk production will not be enough to meet the ambitious target, Mauritius has also offered huge areas of land and other incentives, to three major companies. Two of them - Gold Cream Ltd and SKC Surat - started operations several months ago using South African technical know-how. "We had to find a foreign partner", says Suren Surat, managing director of SKC Surat, whose farm lies at Rose-Belle, in southern Mauritius. This enterprise produces 1,000 l/day, all of it sold on the local market. Surat plans to produce 2,500 l/day by March 2010 and 4,000 l/day by the end of next year.

At Salazie, in northern Mauritius, Gold Cream's Eroll Parker manages a herd of 600 cows that he imported from his native South Africa. His milking shed is a huge steel building in the midst of a forest where he plans to house some 2,000 cows by next year. He sells his entire daily output of 1,500 l to a local processor. "A cow is every day; seven days a week. You have to feed and milk it daily. This is a very tough job", he says, as he milks 160 of his large herd. "But this is quite a promising industry now in Mauritius."

Nasseem Ackbarally



 
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