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Pathways for Enhancing Sustainability and Resilience in India’s Critical Small Dairy Operations

Philadelphia | December 20, 2023

A holistic life cycle analysis of smallholder farms in Karnataka, India, published in the Journal of Dairy Science® reveals strategies for increasing sustainability while retaining dairy’s crucial nutritional and economic contributions

India—with a dairy sector mainly composed of small dairy farms—is one of the largest milk producers in the world and home to more dairy cows than any other country. Its small farms feed millions and are critical sources of employment, income, and nutrition. As the dairy sector works toward reducing its emissions and contributing to global sustainability goals, a new studyopens in new tab/window in the Journal of Dairy Scienceopens in new tab/window is illuminating the steps these valuable small dairy farms can take to lower their carbon footprints while providing enormous economic and nutritional benefits.  

The study’s lead investigator, Anjumoni Mech, PhD, of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology in Karnataka, India, explained, “The small dairy farms that dominate India’s dairy sector—73 million, in fact—have only two dairy cows on average but contribute 72% of India’s milk production. So, understanding their unique impact on the environment, and how it could be potentially lowered, is crucial as we all work toward shared sustainability goals.”

While many studies have measured dairy’s carbon footprint, very few have focused on smaller farms in India, and none to date have examined the Karnataka region of India, which is a major contributor to the country’s overall milk production system.  

Dr. Mech said, “We set out to better understand the holistic life cycle of milk production, including its emission hotspots and collective carbon footprint, and ultimately, to outline steps for increasing sustainability. That is a challenge, given that India’s smaller farms are also incredibly diverse and operate with various dairy cow breeds, management methods, and landscapes.”

Dr. Mech and the research team conducted a life cycle analysis of 47 small farms in Karnataka. Their analysis primarily used data gathered directly from local dairy farmers, including farm size, animal management, body measurements, and milk production. The team collected data on feeding practices, animal performance, manure disposal, feed and fodder production, and other farm management practices via a questionnaire. Additional data (such as emission factors for fertilizer, transportation, and energy) were based on government reports and peer-reviewed literature.  

Caption: Researchers now understand the carbon footprints of small dairy operations in India’s Karnataka region, opening up tangible strategies for improving their environmental impact (Credit: Ghosh). 

Dr. Mech elaborated, “Our analysis revealed that the carbon footprint of the milk production in these small farms is comparable with small dairy operations in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and other regions of India. While the data also indicate that these farms are still producing roughly twice the carbon footprint of the high-producing large dairy farms in the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, and similar countries, they also shed light on specific opportunities for sustainability improvements.”

The major emissions hotspots in the farms were the enteric methane produced from the digestive processes of the cows, along with the greenhouse gases stemming from feed production.  

Dr. Mech said, “Our results indicate that the most effective interventions for reducing the carbon footprint in smallholder dairy farms are to maintain high-yielding animals and adopt appropriate feeding strategies for better feed utilization. Therefore, the future breeding strategy should target milk production traits and feed utilization efficiency as critical phenotypes for improving the next generation of dairy cows.”

The research team was quick to highlight the need for larger-scale future studies, along with a scenario analysis of how to apply emissions mitigation strategies. Nevertheless, this study is a crucial first step to a more sustainable and resilient path for India’s small dairy farms.  

Notes for editors 

The article is “Assessment of carbon footprint of milk production and identification of its major determinants in smallholder dairy farms in Karnataka, India,” by A. Mech, G. Letha Devi, M. Sivaram, S. Sirohi, A. Dhali, A.P. Kolte, P.K. Malik, R.K. Veeranna, L. Niketha, and R. Bhatta ( in new tab/window). It appears in the Journal of Dairy Science, volume 106, issue 12 (December 2023), published by FASS Inc. and Elsevier

The article is openly available at in new tab/window, and the PDF version is available at S0022-0302%2823%2900551-9opens in new tab/window.  

Full text of this article is also available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or [email protected]opens in new tab/window. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact the corresponding author, Anjumoni Mech, PhD, ICAR-National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology, Karnataka, India, at [email protected]opens in new tab/window.  

About the Journal of Dairy Science 

The Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS), an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. It is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries, with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has a 2022 Journal Impact Factor of 3.5 and five-year Journal Impact Factor of 4.2 according to Journal Citation Reports™ (Source: Clarivate™ 2023). www.journalofdairyscience.orgopens in new tab/window

About the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA®) 

The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world’s population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry.www.adsa.orgopens in new tab/window

About FASS Inc. 

Since 1998, FASS has provided shared management services to not-for-profit scientific organizations. With combined membership rosters of more than 10,000 professionals in animal agriculture and other sciences, FASS offers clients services in accounting, membership management, convention and meeting planning, information technology, and scientific publication support. The FASS publications department provides journal management, peer-review support, copyediting, and composition for this journal; the staff includes several BELS-certified (www.bels.orgopens in new tab/window) technical editors and experienced composition staff. www.fass.orgopens in new tab/window

About Elsevier

As a global leader in scientific information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making with innovative solutions based on trusted, evidence-based content and advanced AI-enabled digital technologies.

We have supported the work of our research and healthcare communities for more than 140 years. Our 9,500 employees around the world, including 2,500 technologists, are dedicated to supporting researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders, governments, R&D-intensive companies, doctors, nurses, future healthcare professionals and educators in their critical work. Our 2,900 scientific journals and iconic reference books include the foremost titles in their fields, including Cell Press, The Lancet and Gray’s Anatomy.

Together with the Elsevier Foundationopens in new tab/window, we work in partnership with the communities we serve to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

Elsevier is part of RELXopens in new tab/window, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. For more information on our work, digital solutions and content, visit



Jess Townsend

American Dairy Science Association®

+1 217 239 3331

E-mail Jess Townsend


Eileen Leahy


+1 732 238 3628

E-mail Eileen Leahy