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Verghese Kurien: The Milkman of India

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By Nithin Sridhar

India’s place in the sun would come from the partnership between wisdom of its rural people and skill of its professionals.

~Dr. Verghese Kurien

Independent India has seen many men and women whose inner calling has led them to dedicate their entire lives in the service of society. One such person was Dr. Verghese Kurien, who revolutionized the milk production that not only made the country self-sufficient in milk production but also brought prosperity to the farmers.

His Life: On this day, ninety-four years ago in 1921, Kurien was born in Calicut into a Syrian Christian family. He did his BSc in Physics in 1940 from Loyola College, Madras (now Chennai). Later, he obtained a degree in Mechanical engineering in Guindy and joined TISCO for a while.

Later, he joined the Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry and Dairying in Bangalore and acquired training in Dairying. He finally went to Michigan University, US on a government scholarship and did his Masters in Mechanical Engineering. Kurien returned to India in 1949 and the Government deputed him to Anand, a place in Gujarat where he was supposed to work for few years in return for Government’s scholarship.

Kurien soon quit his Government job, but was convinced by Tribhuvandas Patel, who was working to create a cooperative movement of farmers, to stay back in Anand. This marked the beginning of Kurien’s serious involvement in the milk industry and paved the way for the subsequent improvements that he brought about.

He married Susan Molly Peter in 1953, and they had a daughter Nirmala Kurien. He established many institutions like Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (GCMMF) and Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). He tirelessly worked for the welfare of the poor farmers whose life, at times, completely depended on the dairy.

He also penned down a few books like ‘I Too Had a Dream’ and ‘An Unfinished Dream’. He was awarded multiple times in recognition of his work, including Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1963, Krishi Ratna Award (1986) and Padma Vibhushan in 1999.

Kurien finally passed away on September 9, 2012, after living a fulfilling life filled with hard work, dedication, and service. He was a simple man with a simple goal of serving the society. To quote his own words: “My philosophy in life is to do as much good as I can to those who are less fortunate, but I would like to live my life as a common man”.

Photo: www.telegraph.co.uk
Photo: www.telegraph.co.uk

White Revolution: In 1946, Tribhuvandas Patel united dairy farmers and formed Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited (KDCMPUL) in order to fight against the monopoly of the dairy market and the exploitation of the farmers by Polson dairy. They procured an old dairy (of World War I times) and started producing dairy products.

When Dr Kurien arrived in Anand, Tribhuvandas recognized his potential and requested him to help in developing the cooperative. Kurien gave various advices regarding the management of the dairy and the new machineries that are to be procured for manufacturing milk.

Kurien was touched by the struggles and hardships faced by the farmers. He, along with Tribhuvandas, worked day and night for making the cooperative a success. Kurien finally joined the cooperative in the official capacity of General Manager. In 1951, the cooperative got rid of its old machinery and bought new ones from Larsen and Toubro (L&T).

This step significantly helped the cooperative to scale up its production. From a mere 200 liter procuring capacity in 1948, it increased exponentially to a capacity of 20,000 liters in 1952.

In 1955, Kurien, with the help of Dairy expert H. M. Dalaya, was successful in producing milk powder using buffalo milk. This was another turning point in Dairy industry. The KDCMPUL, was renamed as ‘Amul’ (Anand Milk Union Limited) in 1957. In 1965, after Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister of India, requested Kurien to replicate the Anand model at other places, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was set up.

It was through this NDDB that Kurien used to set up ‘Operation Flood’ that turned India from being a milk deficient country to becoming world’s largest milk producer. In 1968, when Europe had surplus production of milk, Kurien presented the NDDB proposal to World Food Programme (WFP) and convinced them to donate the surplus milk and milk products, which he could then sell at regular price at metropolitan cities, capture the market there, and use the funds generated to make India a self-sufficient country in milk production.

Kurien successfully implemented this Operation Flood over 30 years in three phases. By the end of Phase 2, in 1985, the project managed to establish 130 milk-sheds and 43,000 village cooperatives. The domestic milk powder production saw a drastic increase from 22,000 tons to 140,000 tons. The Phase 3 that ended in 1996, added another 30,000 village cooperatives.

Thus, Kurien, along with support from people like Tribhuvandas, completely revolutionized the dairy industry, accomplished a white revolution and made India the largest producer of milk. More importantly, Kurien’s efforts removed monopoly and exploitation by the middle men, and helped the farmers retain the majority of the profits from this endeavor.

Google India is celebrating his contributions to Indian society by creating a Doodle on him:Google Doodle celebrating the birth anniversary of Dr. Verghese Kurien

Google Doodle celebrating the birth anniversary of Dr. Verghese Kurien

 

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Verghese Kurien’s Success Story

How a man who once worked half-heartedly for the dairy industry transformed it to be a self-sustaining one

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Verghese Kurien gained the respect of the people of Gujarat, being a Christian, non-veg eater and an atheist. He could never speak the local language and wasn't much into drinking milk. Wikimedia Commons
Verghese Kurien gained the respect of the people of Gujarat, being a Christian, non-vegetarian and an atheist. He could never speak the local language and wasn't much into drinking milk. Wikimedia Commons

by Shantam Sahai

  • Verghese Kurien came to Gujrat, a Christian man, unknown to the local language, was unable to find any place to stay
  • After quitting the Government job, he started to work with Tribhuvandas Patel and his cooperative set up
  • Today, he is known as the Milkman of India and the father of White Revolution

Verghese Kurien, popularly known as the ‘Milkman of India’, is the father of White Revolution. The man who made a milk-deficient country self-sufficient in terms of production, and made dairy farming India’s largest self-sustaining industry. Currently, the dairy industry is the largest rural employment provider and counts a third of rural income.

He was born in a Syrian Christian family from Madras Presidency in British India. In 1949, Kurien worked at Anand in the Bombay province. He did not like his work and planned to quit the Government job. Meanwhile, he got in contact with Tribhuvandas Patel, who had formed a cooperative society and brought together farmers. Even though Patel possessed only primitive dairy equipment, he still enjoyed a deep trust of farmers.

READ MORE: Amul: Setting new standards in Indian advertising

After Verghese Kurien left Anand, Patel convinced Kurien to stay back and help him set a dairy. It was the efforts made by Tribhuvandas that inspired Kurien and he dedicated himself to establishing a dairy cooperative, ‘Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Limited (KDCMPUL), which later came to be known as Amul Dairy.

Verghese Kurien replicated the Anand diary in Gujarat under Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF) in 1973 to sell their combined produce under a single Amul brand. Wikimedia Commons
Verghese Kurien replicated the Anand dairy in Gujarat under Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF) in 1973 to sell their combined produce under a single Amul brand. Wikimedia Commons

‘How’ and ‘Why’ of the Success Story

It was a time when farmers faced a problem of ‘fluctuating milk production’. The surplus milk would be wasted in huge amounts during the flush season. When farmers turned to the cooperative for help, Verghese Kurien got an idea of converting this surplus to milk powder. Most of it was buffalo milk, and it was considered impossible by dairy experts around the world that buffalo milk could be converted to skim milk powder or condensed milk. However, H.M Dalaya (Kurien’s batchmate) invented a process which made it possible.

The fact that Kurien could use buffalo milk (which is abundant in India, unlike cow milk) cleverly, made it possible for Amul to compete against Nestle.

Amul later took on other competitors like Aarey dairy and Polson dairy. It also started making cheese from buffalo milk. Later, Kurien also had the products packaged in tin units. Amul gained a market share in Bombay with these products, along with the famous ‘utterly butterly delicious’ Amul butter.

This was the ‘how’ of it, now comes the ‘why’.

India had just gained independence from the British. The political establishment had overseen extortion of taxes from farmers in the times of famine and crop failure. Most of the leaders were concerned over food security. They sought self-sufficiency to substitute imports. Also, there was a huge influence of socialist ideas in the country at that time. Leaders were more keen on the formation of social capital than capital assets.

He used to take pride in the modern IMRA campus saying "These students are my princes, and if you want to make them kings (who will go out to conquer), you cannot have them stay in a pigsty." Wikimedia Commons
He used to take pride in the modern IMRA campus saying “These students are my princes, and if you want to make them kings (who will go out to conquer), you cannot have them stay in a pigsty.” Wikimedia Commons

Amul was cooperative which followed the Gandhian philosophy of ‘production by the masses’ and not ‘mass production’. Hence, Verghese Kurien enjoyed the backing of political leaders and bureaucrats who saw merit in this cooperative model of farmers who were ready to be led by professionals even though they were the owners.

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Also, the cooperative which only consisted of Tribhuvandas Patel’s case was now being flooded by farmers from other castes too. Amul was breaking caste-barriers, raising incomes, and helping the farmers get riddance from debt dependence.

All in all, favourable social and political conditions heavily aided the onset of Amul. 

The Extent of ‘Good Relations’ with the Government

1. When Verghese Kurien visited Nestle in 1956, on the request of Commerce and Industries Minister, asking them to induct more Indians and bring down imported inputs in the Indian production, he was told “making condensed milk could not be left to the natives.” What followed after he came back to India was Amul ramping up production of condensed milk. After two years, the government banned the import of condensed milk.

2. Kurien had really good relations with the Finance Minister of that time, whenever he wanted the imports to be cut, it was done. The only condition being, there should be no shortage of butter in the market. Verghese Kurien always kept his promises.

Kurien worked with 9 Prime Ministers on his terms. Wikimedia Commons
Kurien worked with 9 Prime Ministers on his terms. Wikimedia Commons

NDDB and Nationwide Work

During a visit to one of Kurien’s dairy, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was so impressed by how the dairy worked, that he asked Kurien to replicate the ‘Anand pattern’ nationwide. For this purpose, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was founded, under the conditions that it would be independent of the government and the set up would be at Anand. Kurien wanted the established to be away from the political class and close to farmers.

Verghese Kurien replicated the Anand dairy in Gujarat under Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF) in 1973 to sell their combined produce under a single Amul brand. Other states set up federation on the same pattern, Rajasthan’s Saras, Karnataka’s Nandini and Bihar’s Sudha are prime examples. These brands are dominating their respective state markets today.

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Kurien understood the ‘convert aid into trade’ policy of various foreign governments and countered it by his policy of ‘converting aid to become self-made’. He used all the dumped aid in the Indian markets as his ‘billion-litre idea’. He set milk sheds and dairies to reverse the movement of high-yield native cattle (who would otherwise face unnecessary slaughter) to stabilize the markets of big cities.

International experts used to stay back at Anand to work alongside Verghese Kurien. In exchange, he used to engage them for their expertise on salaries cut from the aid money.

Awards

  • Padma Shri in 1965
  • Padma Bhushan in 1966
  • Krishi Ratna in 1986
  • World Food Price in 1989
  • Padma Vibhushan in 1999

Verghese Kurien made India the world’s largest milk-producing country in 30 years of his work. He worked with 9 Prime Ministers in his 5 decades of work. He never left Anand during his lifetime, saying it was his real home. He died on 9th September 2012, aged 90.