Dairy farmers snared in govt. cow deal in trouble

By Rathindra Kuruwita 

Dairy farmers who took part in a subsidised scheme to introduce high-yielding imported pregnant cows in 2017 had paid the government over Rs. 988 million, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating corruption in the current administration was informed yesterday.

K. S. Damayanthi, internal auditor of the Ministry of Rural Economic Development told the PCoI that it was the total payment for 4,942 cows.

"We imported 2,000 cows first. 30 of them were not well, Wellard Rural Exports Pvt. Ltd, the supplier of the cows, told us. They promised to replace them. Again 3,030 cows came and of them 58 were deemed not suitable. Wellard promised to replace them, but the promised cows have not arrived."

Pointing that a large number of those cows had died, leaving many farmers in serious financial trouble, the PCoI questioned Damayanthi whether the government had compensated the farmers. She responded in the negative.

In July 2019, Kingsley Walter Senanayake, who thrice won the award for the best milk farmer of Matale told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that he was plagued by financial difficulties due to loans taken by him to take part in the government subsidized scheme to introduce high-yielding imported pregnant cows, in 2017. That was also the case with many other farmers, he said.

Senanayake said that it had cost him about Rs 30 to 35 to produce a litre of milk from local milch cows and it fetched about Rs. 65.

 "To maintain a local milch cow, on average, I spend about Rs. 350 a day and I can earn about Rs. 603 daily. For an imported cow given to me by the Ministry, I have to spend about R. 1,100 per day but I can make only about Rs. 1,088. This is only when they produce most amount of milk."

The imported milch cows consumed about 10 kilos of cattle feed a day and that alone amounted to over Rs. 600. 

The witness said that he had drawn a loan of Rs. 10 million from the Commercial Bank to finance the project and since the project had been a complete failure he had not been able to pay back the loan for eight months. The bank kept telling him that it would sell the land he mortgaged to recover the loan. "I have written to the Minister, Director Sagarika Sumanasekera and even the President," he said.

The Ministry of Rural Economy has informed the investors that those pregnant cows would produce 20 litres of milk a day on average and had advised some of the investors, who were already raising cows to get rid of the Sri Lankan cows that they had

Investors who took part in the scheme paid Rs. 200,000 per cow and the government contributed the remainder.

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