All Island Farmers Federation (AIFF) National Organiser Namal Karunaratne said the plans were to buy the cattle from Wellard Rural Exports, the company from which the animals were imported in previous years.
“The Government must immediately suspend the import of the dairy cattle and get the necessary technical expertise before importing another stock of animals. The project has been a dismal failure and is also responsible for bringing new diseases to the country,” Karunaratne told the Daily FT.
Co-Cabinet spokesman Ramesh Pathirana said Cabinet last week had approved a proposal to import 2,500 dairy heifers from Australia to strengthen the local dairy industry to increase fresh milk production and reduce the import of powdered milk.
The previous Government also said the idea of importing dairy cattle was for the same purpose by the country but has so far managed to meet only around 35% of the demand for dairy produce in the country so far, Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) former Director General Dr. A.D.N. Chandrasiri said.
Chandrasiri, who is contesting the General Election from National People’s Power (NPP) headed by the JVP, said the country imported 508 dairy cows in 2012, 1,502 in 2013, 2,495 in 2015 and 5,024 in 2017, but most of these animals were now dead except for a few that were taken to a privately owned farm.
He said of the heifers (cows that have not borne a calf) imported in July 2015, 107 calves that were delivered within two months of arrival had died while in the stock that was imported in January 2018, of the calves born between their arrival and December that year, 716 or 43.3% of the newly born animals had died.
“The cattle were imported to meet political objectives and not with the objective of helping the dairy farmers of the local dairy industries. The necessary technical expertise was not obtained before importing the animals,” he told reporters at a press conference yesterday.
Chandrasiri also said that the last batch imported in 2018 of over 5,000 cattle were given to farmers but most of the farmers were not given the necessary knowledge on how to care for the animals. “If there are 50 of these animals given to a farm, they need high quality grass on at least nine acres of land to sustain them for a year, as well as 1.1 million litres of water as they need a lot of water, as well as at least 100 metric tons of animal feed.
“Also dung and urine from 50 animals amount to about 2,500 kilos and 2,500 litres each day and there must be an environmentally friendly way to dispose of these but most of the farmers do not have these facilities,” he said.
“This program was a complete failure, not once, not twice, but it failed thrice. It is shocking that despite that, taxpayers’ money is being used to import the animals once again, and we wish to strongly object to this,” he said.
Karunaratne of the All Island Farmers Federation said that the decision of the Government to import cattle is highly suspicious given the dismal failure of the previous such attempts. “The cattle imports from Australia initiated in 2012 when Bail Rajapaksa was the Minister of Economic Department and continued under the Yahapalanaya Government, which has been mired with allegations of corruption with the Auditor General, as well as the Presidential Commission to look into corruption in State intuitions appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena concluded the program was flawed,” he said,
The animals priced at around Rs. 500,000 had been sold at Rs. 200,000 per cow to farmers while the Government contributed Rs. 265,000. Karunaratne said there are strong suspicions that poor quality animals were imported and sold at a higher price and said it is not clear what happened to the money that was obtained to subside the payment for the animals.
State Veterinary Surgeons’ Association (SVSA) Chairman Dr. Ruwan Wickramaarachchi, who is contesting from the NPP from the Matara District, said that along with the animal imports, several new diseases were brought to the country, thus putting indigenous animals also at risk. He said one such disease is Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD).
Wickramaarachchi said that cattle imports are necessary, but they must be done in the proper manner so that the country can reap the full benefit for such imports. “Some of the animals imported cannot deal with the climatic conditions here and die. We have prepared a breeding policy and the Government must take measures according to that,” he said.