Monday, April 02, 2007

Changing the culture in Pakistan

Nestlé is an expert at changing cultures. Our report on 7 case study countries from 2004 showed how Nestlé and other baby food companies had taken decades to change breastfeeding cultures into bottle feeding ones. It is hardly surprising it takes so much effort to try to undo the damage. See:

The same applies in other areas. Last Monday I wrote about the new Nestlé milk processing plant in Pakistan and how in other countries Nestlé has radically changed the way people buy milk, putting thousands of dairy farmers out of business in the process. If you haven't listened to my podcasts yet, today's is a particularly rich one as it includes past interviews I conducted with experts from Sri Lanka and Colombia on Nestlé impact and dirty tricks, such as effectively starving farmers into submission by importing milk - even repackaging expired milk - to feed its supply chains. You can access this and past podcasts at:

A report from partners in Pakistan exposes how Nestlé is not only competing with traditional milk delivery systems, but demonising them. You can download the full report, published in 2003, at:

Why is this relevant to the baby milk issue? Not only because we see Nestlé using similar tactics to create a new market and to divert criticism that are so familiar to us. But also because the systems Nestlé put in place cry out for high-value end products, such as breastmilk substitutes, particularly substitutes promoted with idealizing health claims to further boost their price.

Bizarrely, in Pakistan Nestlé's processed milk business has its origins not in food but in a company making packaging. As the report explains:

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One may never be able to decide whether it was the egg or the chicken first. But one can know for sure that it was the packaging and not the milk first, in case of packaged milk in Pakistan.

Packages Limited, Pakistan’s biggest paper manufacturer, leased in 1977 a small inactive milk sterilization plant in Lahore to test its new liquid holding paper. Packages had a joint venture with the original inventors of the special paper, Tetra Pak of Sweden. The UHT milk in paper cartons proved to be successful in Pakistan’s climate compared with earlier experiments of pasteurized milk refrigerated in polythene bags. Packages created in 1981 a company Milkpak.

Milkpak became the brand leader in packaged milk market. It had relied heavily on the limited market evacuated from peri-urban producers under duress of the municipal authorities. Nestle joined Milkpak to form Nestle Milkpak in 1988. It enabled the business to pump in millions to develop packaged milk market. Corner stone to the new game plan has been a nasty TV campaign demonizing small peri-urban producers. Nestle provided strategic depth to the business concern as well by concentrating more on powdering, value added products like infant formula, and export orientation.

Center piece to the packaged milk marketing strategy in Pakistan is a countrywide TV campaign. An over ten minutes long docu-drama is aired frequently. It paints local milkmen as infectious animals whose elimination is the only way to safeguard public health. Horrifying wide-angle close-up shots and derogatory language declares gawalas as cruel villains. They are shown blowing cigarette smoke in people’s faces and mixing dirty pond water in milk. In contrast the companies are shown doing all the good to a gift that nature made so great but only forgot to pack. The milk packaging is compared to peels and shells.

Tetra Pak being the sole provider of the packaging material to the dairy industry, has an interest in expanding market for this milk. The campaign is thus either run by Tetra and/or by Pakistan Dairy Association, representative body of the industry. Though Nestle dominates the market, a joint ownership of the campaign by all the companies helps establish the impression that it is for public good and certainly not for petty interests of individual companies.
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As in other countries, such as Sri Lanka and Colombia, importing milk has served a critical role in undermining the ability of national producers to compete. The report states:

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Pakistan has been a favourite dumping ground for western dairy surpluses.

Fat free powder imports surged to unprecedented and highly inflated levels in late 70s. We were told that this nutritional influx is for the good of the poor here. The massive stocks available at lower than the local cost of production over took urban markets, jolted peri-urban production system and made local dairy processing unfeasible. The tide then started to settle down. Big corporations took over the market in 90s, and started substituting imports with ‘local production’.

Corporations now oppose imports into Pakistan at subsidized rates. They are convincing everyone that exporting milk from Pakistan, not importing, is for the good of the poor.
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As the report explains, however, an export market drives up the price of processed milk while consolidation in the supply chains drives down the prices paid to farmers. Farmers lose livelihoods. The poor find it harder to purchase milk.

And all the time Nestlé is promoting its products as the modern way to live.

The producers of the report, Punjab Lok Sujag, seek to work with rural communities, bringing in technology that empowers them rather than disempowers them.

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