Starbucks Punjabi-style: Where milk and ‘milk emporiums’ reign

An early evening outing to buy milk products at the milk bar.

An early evening out to buy the day’s milk at the Verka Milk Bar, in the town of Mohali, in India’s Punjab (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

Outside the Verka Milk Plant, in the town of Mohali, in India’s breadbasket state of Punjab, is the ‘Verka Milk Bar cum Fast Food Complex’. It’s more like a ‘Milk Emporium’, with extensive grassy gardens dotted with families eating at picnic tables and larger-than-life-size statuary celebrating milk and the many products made from it as well as a dozen different milk stalls, booths, shops and restaurants selling a wealth of milk and milk-derived products along with Kentucky fried chicken and a few other more conventional fast foods. Adding an industrial touch to the scene, the complex is equipped with sturdy industrial shutters. For a touch of precision craftsmanship, one might even draw a parallel to the expertise of shopfront installers London.

A large variety of milk and milk products are on sale

A large variety of milk and milk products are consumed by the people of Punjab (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

But milk still reigns supreme here. From 6 in the morning till 10 in the evening every day, day in, day out, the human traffic walking up to the windows to buy milk in all its guises—fresh milk, curd, butter, ghee, paneer, milk shakes, milk whey, milk powder, milk sweets, salted and sugared lassis, sweetened flavoured milk drinks, ice creams—never stops.

Dhiraj Singh (right) purchases a box of milk sweets at the Mohali milk bar.

ILRI economist Dhiraj Singh (right) purchases a box of milk sweets (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

People here like to buy their milk products daily, to ensure the freshness of this perishable product. And buy they do. While Kenyans like to think they are big milk consumers, the Punjabis appear to put Kenyans to shame, consuming not only large quantities of dairy products on a daily basis but consuming several hundred kinds of milk-derived products.

Mohali's 'Modern Milk Bar Cum Fast Food Complex'

The ‘Modern Milk Bar Cum Fast Food Complex’ in Mohali, Punjab (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

The town of Mohali lies adjacent to Chandigar, a capital shared by the states of Punjab and Haryana. Bordering Pakistan to the north, into which ‘the Punjab’ extends, Punjab is India’s richest state. It is the largest provider of the nation’s wheat and has the lowest poverty rates.

One of the scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute ILRI) working in the Punjab is Dhiraj Singh, an economics student at the Centre for the Study of Rural Development at Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi. Singh is conducting surveys on the intensification of dairy enterprises in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar as well as Punjab, and in Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. He is conducting surveys of villagers, dairy cooperatives, private dairies, dairy vendors and district offices.

This ILRI research is funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development.

An anthropologist at large

Arindam Samaddar Arindam Samaddar began working for International Livestock Research Institute in October 2009 and this is his first Annual program meeting. 'I'm very excited, both by the research I'm doing in India, and by the opportunity to meet new colleagues here,' he says. Being an anthropologist, he brings new skills to ILRI. When Arindam was studying for his PhD, he coined the term ‘agricultural anthropology’, and that tells you much about where he's coming from. 'I have always been interested in exploring agricultural development from an anthropological perspective,' he explains. His early research in the state of Bihar looked at the different ways three separate communities – Hindus, Muslims and tribal communities – approached agricultural tasks. Later, for his PhD, he studied the impact of technology adoption on rice cultivators in West Bengal. Two years of teaching at Calcutta University was followed by a spell with the International Maize and Wheat Development Center (CIMMYT), where he worked in partnership with ILRI scientists on the crop-livestock interactions in conservation agriculture systems in Bangladesh and India. Now, he is providing an anthropological perspective to the Cereal Systems Initiative in South Asia (CSISA), which aims to boost the cereal production of some 6 million arable farmers. So what attracted him to ILRI? "Anthropologists try to understand whole systems, they don't look at problems in isolation, and I think ILRI has a similar approach," he says. "ILRI also has a strong focus on poverty eradication, and that's something that appeals to me as well." He's also excited by the idea of getting his hands dirty – metaphorically speaking. “Up to now, I’ve always focused on research, but with this project I'm going to be involved, for the first time, in practical interventions to help improve farmers’ livelihoods."

Research project on fodder marketing in Bihar, India

ILRI India

A recently completed research project has, for the first time, systematically studied the trading of fodder in Bihar with a view to determining the importance of fodder trading and marketing as a means of mitigating fodder scarcity. The study has also identified differences in the nutritive value of traded fodders.

Dr Iain Wright of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) which led the study explained, Scarcity of fodder is one of the key constraints to the development of the livestock sector in Bihar as well as India generally. We know that trading of fodder is important within villages, between villages and even between states, but until now we have not known much about the volumes traded nor the importance of fodder trading in supplying fodder to areas where there is a scarcity. We now understand more about the way in which fodder is moved within Bihar and even outside the state and how the marketing of fodder could be made more effective by partnering with a competent retail graphics design company.

Crop residues make up almost 50% of the fodder that is fed to livestock in India, and are even more important in Bihar where over 60% of all feed is contributed by wheat and rice straw, with rice straw especially important. Dr Wright explained that recent research by ILRI had shown that there were big differences in the nutritive value of straw from different varieties of rice. ‘We wanted to see whether these differences in the feeding value of rice straw are reflected in the prices paid for straw in the markets.’

The results of the study show the diversity of the supply and demand for fodder in different parts of Bihar. Areas with intensive cereal production supply dry fodder to the rest of Bihar. Dr Nils Teufel an ILRI researcher explained that farmers with small land-holdings have to purchase dry fodder to feed their animals while farmers with surplus fodder are selling about 45% of their dry fodder production. “Within villages, more than 80% of trade in fodder is usually directly between producer and consumers but trade between districts generally involves up to four trade transactions,” he added. Urban dairy producers are major buyers of fodder – they buy about 73% of dry fodder sold by traders.

The type of fodder used also depends on the intensity of production: with increasing intensification of dairy production, the share of wheat straw being fed to dairy animals increases.

Laboratory analysis of fodder samples showed the expected superior nutritional quality of wheat straw compared to paddy straw. In fact, the analysed paddy straw samples showed below average quality characteristics.

Traders and consumers evaluate straw by its appearance, but neither appearance nor the nutritional quality characteristics seem to have a strong effect on prices. This is in contrast to some other parts of India where prices are higher for fodder with better nutritional quality.

A workshop at which the key findings of the project will be presented and discussed is being organized by ILRI on 27 October 2009 at the ICAR Research Complex for the Eastern Region, Patna. The guest of honour will be Sri Anil Kumar Singh, Director, Dairy, Department of Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, Government of Bihar. Participants will include representatives of the primary stakeholders, i.e. fodder producers, traders and livestock owners of the state as well as research scientists and officials from different government departments. Members of the Press are cordially invited to attend.

For further information
contact Dr Iain A Wright, Regional Representative, Asia. Tel: 987 187 7038, email:

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is one of 15 International Agricultural Research Institutes which are part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. ILRI carries out research to alleviate poverty through the development of the livestock sector in Africa and Asia. Its headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya. It has a team of scientists based in Hyderabad working to alleviate problems of feed scarcity and an Asia Regional Office in New Delhi. For further information on ILRI see

The research project was funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) Vienna, Austria.