By Riya Sequeira Shetty
Khodabhai Baddabhai Bharvad of the Bharvad community in Upleta, Jamnagar, Gujarat owns a herd of 130 Bhagri goats. Bhagri goats are free-ranging and graze across the common lands of Saurashtra. 75 of Khodabhai’s goats are currently lactating. They are milked twice a day before the herd sets off to graze and once it returns home. Khodabhai harvests 75–80 litres of milk every day. Milk from the free-ranging Bhagri goats is like a polyphony of several notes — astringent, grassy, and earthy flavours combine to create a taste perhaps best described as goaty! It has several therapeutic benefits, yet does not have much demand in the market. Efforts are underway (by Junagadh University and government agencies) to register this unique Bhagri goat breed.
Khodabhai says that the dairies, generally, don’t procure goat milk and if they do, they pay a random amount between 10–15 rupees per litre. The uncertainty of procurement and low prices make the Bharvad herders, including Khodabhai, wary of dairies. Herders prefer selling milk to chai shops which pay 18 rupees for a litre of milk. The dense grasslands of Saurashtra nurture lakhs of goats who produce large volumes of milk. Such volumes far outstrip the well-known Gujarati thirst for creamy tea! Chai shops can procure only a fraction of the total goat milk produced in Saurashtra, and there are huge surpluses
Customarily this surplus has been turned into mawa by Bharvad women. Mawa is similar to condensed milk and it takes 7 litres of fresh, creamy, thick milk to produce a kg of mawa. Every 2–3 days, the men of the household take the mawa to nearby towns such as Jam Jodhpur, Dhoraji or Junagarh. The mawa sells for 200- 220 per kilo in these towns.
Kodabhai and his fellow Bharwads feel it is inadequate compensation for food so good! They are now dreaming of goat milk pedhas! He has been selling mawa to local halwais (sweet makers) who have started making small batches of pedhas to test the waters. The sweetness of sugar, dried fruits and spices are perfect companions to goat milk mawa. Local halwais (milk-confectioners) are experimenting with it for the moment, distributing it for tasting and selling it in temples and in small markets.
The halwais have received positive responses and the future looks bright. Kodhabhai also aims to set up a Sangathan (an organization) of herders to meet the demand from sweet shops, restaurants or caterers in future and grow this into a thriving business. Being a herder all his life, he is now keen to extend his steps from the world of grasslands to the world of enterprise. He feels Bharvads could even make pedhas better than the halwai, because they understand milk the best, even better than halwais. The pedhas could well help them gain increased incomes and a greater share of the dairy economy. Success will mean inspiration for many other Bharvad families and to the herders of the larger world. Perhaps it is time that these primary producers took control of their produce, cutting the need for large-scale procurement, processing, and promotion — thereby reaching the consumers directly.
Note: This article was written on April 5th, 2021, and since then the goat herders of Kachchh have joined with sheep herders to form the Ghenta Bakra Maldhari Sangathan. In a hopeful development, Aadvik Foods Pvt. Ltd. has initiated procurement of goat milk in Gujarat, to tap export markets in Europe and the United States. Amul expects to initiate goat milk procurement towards supplying its feta cheese production unit in Anand.
Riya Sequeira Shetty has an interest in sustainability and has worked with ecology and conservation. She is currently the coordinator at the Centre for Pastoralism.