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Open for Business: How a Bangladeshi Business Created a Milk Market That Helps Dairy Farmers Weather the Pandemic

Nasir Talukder and his wife, Fahima, rear dairy cows in south-central Bangladesh, but for years they struggled to earn enough money from selling milk to support their family.

Although demand for milk is high in their region of Barishal, Nasir and Fahima lacked direct access to local markets. Many dairy farmers like them also don’t have the proper tools and training for farm management, or access to affordable animal feed to produce enough milk.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, business has become even more difficult for these dairy farmers.

Fortunately, Nasir and Fahima started supplying to local business Prantojon Agro Enterprise in 2019. With support from Feed the Future through ACDI/VOCA, Prantojon entered Barishal’s milk sector the same year to tap into its potential and strengthen the supply chain. This allowed dairy farmers like Nasir and Fahima to earn more money from selling milk and put them in a better position to weather the pandemic.

A Prantojon employee tests the quality of milk delivered by a dairy farmer at a collection point in Barishal

A Prantojon employee tests the quality of milk delivered by a dairy farmer at a collection point in Barishal. ACDI/VOCA

To strengthen the dairy supply chain in Barishal, Prantojon first formed farmers’ groups and provided the farmers with training in animal breeding, hygienic milk collection and cost-benefit analysis.

Then, the company established the first privately owned milk chilling plant in Barishal to collect and process locally produced, high-quality milk.

Prantojon also provided refrigeration to 60 small shops and created three milk collection centers that gave farmers a place to sell their product and purchase feed, medicine, and animal healthcare products and services.

The Prantojon strategy has given dairy farmers access to a market that was once out of reach, empowering them to meet consumer demand, and has helped to promote the nutritional benefits of dairy through a familiar local brand.
Now that there’s a formal milk market, dairy farmers are earning more money and families in the region can access a variety of dairy products that are safe to consume, helping combat the malnutrition that disproportionately affects marginalized groups.

“We used to sell the milk through milk collectors, who would then sell to the sweet shops or processing centers in the city,” Fahima said, “but now we can directly sell the milk to Prantojon at a higher price.”

Nasir and Fahima Talukder, of Barishal

Nasir and Fahima Talukder, of Barishal, increased their income by supplying milk to a local enterprise called Prantojon. ACDI/VOCA

In the face of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown, Prantojon has helped dairy farmers like Nasir and Fahima prepare both their family and their businesses with increased awareness of milk’s nutritional benefits and training.

Of the 17 liters of milk Nasir and Fahima now produce daily, 2 liters are set aside for their family, allowing them to get the nutrition they need during the pandemic.

And in less than a year, the family’s monthly income from milk sales increased by $60, a significant amount for a rural family like theirs. This increased income also means more savings to help them to better cope with crises, such as COVID-19’s impact on dairy businesses.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Bangladesh in mid-March, Prantojon temporarily halted milk operations as the country went into lockdown. However, following the government’s guidance on hygiene and social distancing protocols, operations resumed on April 15.

Prantojon introduced digital marketing along with swift home delivery services while maintaining hygiene standards throughout the milk procurement and distribution chain.

Prantojon has also signed up for an online delivery platform and is strengthening outreach for more customers in order to minimize the initial economic impacts of COVID-19 on their businesses. As a result, sales ramped up to 2,800 liters in a month, reaching over half of usual monthly sales.

Now, Prantojon continues to supply milk to households through home delivery and retailers. Consumers who had stopped buying milk in March due to safety concerns are able to purchase milk again.

Businesses like Prantojon contribute to the development of the dairy industry in Bangladesh. Within a six-month period, Prantojon collected 22,000 liters of milk and sold to 140 households daily through home delivery and 66 local retailers.

Through their innovative business model, Prantojon created a stable and profitable milk market for 500 farmers in Barishal to access and supply safe, nutritious, and affordable milk to local consumers, even during uncertain times.