NZ dairy expertise helps fight poverty in Sri Lanka

17:26, Dec 11 2013

New Zealand farming expertise is helping reduce poverty in Sri Lanka.

As part of a programme set-up by charity Tear Fund, more than 8500 Sri Lankan dairy farmers in the east and north of the country now have the infrastructure to keep their families above the poverty line.

Tear Fund are working with New Zealand companies Patton Refrigeration and QPod Systems on the project, utilising their expertise in milk collection refrigeration and dairy sales and marketing.

Since 2005, Sri Lanka has endured the brunt of the 2005 Boxing Day tsunami, as well as a civil war but things were more stable there now and it was important to help them rebuild, Tear Fund chief executive Ian McInnes said.

Most of the farmers only had around five acres of land but the increased infrastructure helped in a massive way, he said.

"A cow will be producing five litres of milk a day if you're lucky and when you compare that to New Zealand cows, which put out 40 litres a day, it's really small scale.

"But off five cows at five litres a day that will put a farmer well over the poverty line."

Across Sri Lanka they were helping to produce around 10 million litres of milk a year, McInnes said.

"Five years ago they were producing next to nothing compared to that so it is a significant change."

The refrigeration technology meant the farmers could sell a wider array of products, when previously they were restricted to cheap powdered milk, McInnes said.

They also helped to set up a co-operative to give the farmers more selling power in the market.

"We help them so they can work as a collective, like mini Fonterras.

"This helps them get a better price for their milk."

The work was not without its challenges and there was a lot of red tape to get through, McInnes said.

Patton Refrigeration mechanical design engineer Ray Keane agreed with this but said the benefits far outweighed the difficulty in getting set up.

"The first time I went over in April 2012, the area we were working in was still militarised so there were a lot of checkpoints and red tape.

"Working and communicating with all the different ethnic groups had its difficulties as well.

"We were really trying to help the Tamils in particular and they are making really good progress there."

For Patton Refrigeration not only was it a good chance to help people but also showcase their skills to the lucrative Indian market, which they were already invested in, Keane said.

Charities working with companies in public private partnerships was the way forward in providing aid, McInnes said.

"Patton and QPod bring so much expertise to the table.

"It's skills that Sri Lanka really didnt have."

The New Zealand government contributed $2 million to the project in the north of Sri Lanka which helped establish six milking chillers, three of which were large milk chilling facilities