Dr Verghese Kurien: A practical idealist

The Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union got here into being on December 14, 1946, neatly prior to Verghese Kurien arrived in Anand. The credit score for growing the cooperative – which used to be already gathering some 7,250 litres of milk day-to-day from just about 2,000 farmers in 27 villages when the 28-year-old mechanical engineer joined as supervisor on January 1, 1950 – is going to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai and, in fact, the redoubtable Tribhuvandas Patel.

But it used to be Kurien who reworked what used to be nonetheless an early idealistic experiment – of banding in combination rural manufacturers for promoting at once to shoppers sans any middlemen – right into a full-fledged sensible imaginative and prescient that may be prolonged past a unmarried district and even milk.

Verghese Kurien and his spouse snapped at Santacruz Airport in 1963. (Express archive picture)

That imaginative and prescient wasn’t restricted to processing the produce of farmers: The Kaira Union had only a rundown govt creamery taken on hire prior to Kurien got here in. By 1950, it had a correct plate pasteuriser that would take care of as much as 57,000 litres of milk consistent with day, adopted via a spanking new dairy in 1955. This one had two times the capability, whilst additionally in a position to changing extra milk procured all the way through the “flush” iciness season into powder and butter for recombining within the “lean” summer season months. The powder plant – supplied with a Niro Atomiser, the arena’s first ever designed for spray drying of buffalo milk – enabled Kaira’s farmers to seize the industrial price of solids-not-fat (SNF). Previously, handiest the 7-8% fats of their surplus milk might be conserved and made into ghee; the rest SNF portion (containing protein, sugar and minerals) needed to be thrown away.

Nor used to be that imaginative and prescient confined to operating with farmers: Payment for milk in response to fats and SNF content material, and measuring those for each and every litre poured on the village society assortment centres, is amongst Kurien’s many lasting legacies. It used to be a gadget – farmers being paid each for amount and high quality of milk provided – even organised non-public dairies have been compelled to undertake. The Kaira cooperative used to be, from the early fifties, additionally offering synthetic insemination and veterinary beef up for its farmers. By end-1964, the Union had its personal breeding centre for manufacturing of semen from bulls whose mom have been confirmed top milk yielders, but even so India’s biggest compound farm animals feed plant. In addition, it used to be distributing inexperienced fodder seeds to its 85,000 farmers, who have been now supplying over 1.6 lakh litres consistent with day (LLPD) of milk on a median.

Verghese Kurien. (Express archive picture)

A Farmer-to-Consumer Model

For Kurien, a rural cooperative’s position wasn’t merely to procedure its contributors’ produce and making to be had yielding-enhancing inputs/products and services, but in addition hyperlink them to the overall person. That required making a logo distinguishing their product from others’.A Nestle’s, Hindustan Lever’s or GlaxoSmithKline’s most useful belongings lay now not of their factories and actual property, however within the person manufacturers they owned. An organization’s logo portfolio transformed mere undifferentiated commodities into person merchandise. Kurien used to be transparent that the Kaira Union would now not be a freelance provider to different companies – B2B (Business-to-Business) in these days’s parlance. His type used to be F2C (Farmer-to-Consumer). The true price of a farmer’s produce used to be realised handiest when bought to the end-consumer, who needed to be “milked”, albeit gently. Kurien wasn’t going to permit any individual else to skim the cream off the farmer’s milk that rightfully used to be hers.

The logo that the Kaira Union unveiled in October 1955 used to be now not for not anything known as ‘Amul’ – actually, useful. Amul and the little moppet woman endorsing the cooperative’s “utterly butterly delicious” merchandise attached straight away with shoppers. The logo, as Kurien put it, used to be a “contract with consumers”. Amul merchandise needed to meet or surpass their expectancies, style excellent and “always represent the highest hygienic, bacteriological and organoleptic standards”.

The above built-in philosophy recognised a elementary truth of rural India, the place most of the people possessed little land, cash and even productive animals. What they principally had used to be labour energy – the capability to place of their circle of relatives assets for rising plants and rearing farm animals. For them, go back on “labour”, now not “capital”, mattered. The one establishment that would lend a hand – via purchasing, processing and advertising and marketing their produce in the best way – used to be the cooperative. Through this organisation, it used to be imaginable to have their very own processing amenities, interact skilled managers, and get right of entry to inputs and products and services to cause them to additional productive. They may just, thus, jointly personal and conquer what they couldn’t for my part.

Verghese Kurien, Verghese Kurien milkman of india, Kaira, Verghese Kurien amul, amul founder, who is Verghese Kurien A bust of Verghese Kurien used to be unveiled on the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) headquarters at Anand via his daughter, Nirmala Kurien, to mark his first demise anniversary in 2013

The Kaira Union that Kurien nurtured totally showed to this idea. Its milk manufacturers have been contributors of village-level cooperative societies whose managing committees they elected. Those representatives, in flip, elected the chairman and administrators of the Union’s board that ran the Amul dairy via a first-rate government and different pros that integrated challenge engineers, veterinary docs, agronomists and nutritionists. This cooperative used to be as trade orientated as any corporate, with the exception of that it sought to maximize returns to producer-members. And that used to be when it comes to milk worth – as in opposition to proportion worth appreciation or dividends – and offering high quality farm animals feed, synthetic insemination and animal healthcare products and services.

Beyond Kaira

The Kaira cooperative – its operations spanned all the price chain from manufacturing inputs and procurement to processing and advertising and marketing – was the “live lab” for Kurien to duplicate the type first throughout Gujarat. By 1974, there have been 5 different district unions – of Surat, Baroda, Mehsana, Banaskantha and Sabarkantha – that, along side Kaira, shaped an apex Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF). Kurien wouldn’t have minded that the remaining 3 grew to be larger than the unique Kaira Union. If anything else, it used to be testimony to the Amul type’s luck. When he demitted place of work as GCMMF chairman on March 20, 2006, its unions have been in combination purchasing a median 62.5 LLPD of milk from 24.9 lakh producer-members. In 2020-21, the ones numbers had additional swelled to 239 LLPD and 36.4 lakh, respectively. So too had GCMMF’s gross sales turnover, from Rs 3,773 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 39,248 crore in 2020-21.

Verghese Kurien, Verghese Kurien milkman of india, Kaira, Verghese Kurien amul, amul founder, who is Verghese Kurien Dr Verghese Kurien chats with Sir James Barker, Chairman of Unigate Ltd in 1973. (Photograph via British Official)

The GCMMF unions have most commonly remained trustworthy to Kurien’s beliefs. Notwithstanding the intrusion of birthday celebration politics, which neither Tribhuvandas Patel nor he accepted all the way through their time, those haven’t affected the daily operations of cooperatives or a minimum of the pursuits in their farmer-members. One indicator is the procurement worth paid via the Gujarat unions. At a median Rs 795 consistent with kg of fats in 2020-21, it translated into a worth of Rs 49.1 for a litre of full-cream milk retailing at Rs 58. In different phrases, a nearly 85% proportion within the person rupee that Kurien would had been pleased with.

But Kurien’s all-encompassing sensible idealism is one thing his successors – in particular on the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) – didn’t imbibe. This used to be any other establishment he had based in 1965 with the purpose of taking the Amul type nationally. While the frenzy got here from Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Kurien had proposed the established order of an ‘Indian Dairy Products Marketing Board’ as early as March 1957. The absolute best means to spice up milk manufacturing, he wrote, used to be “by arranging to market, in an organised manner, whatever milk is at present produced”. If the processing and advertising and marketing of milk used to be performed neatly, farmers might be paid upper costs, making them make investments extra in dairying: “Where he kept one milch animal, he will now keep two. He will become more receptive to modern ideas of better breeding, feeding and management of cattle. A revolution in the Indian dairy industry will then have begun”.

Verghese Kurien, Verghese Kurien milkman of india, Kaira, Verghese Kurien amul, amul founder, who is Verghese Kurien Dr. Verghese Kurien’s daughter Nirmala Kurien (Express Photo By Bhupendra Rana)

Building markets for farmers’ produce – Kaira wouldn’t have took place with out Bombay – used to be a key part of the NDDB’s Operation Flood programme introduced in 1970. The liquid milk markets in main city centres have been to be evolved and the larger call for from that met, to start with, in the course of the provide of recombined powder and butter oil donated via the European Economic Community. These proficient commodities have been to not be dumped, however bought at costs top sufficient to care for incentives for home milk manufacturers. Once an organised advertising and marketing gadget along enhanced processing capacities – financed from the proceeds of the loose imports – have been in position, the towns might be “flooded” with milk from rural spaces. No economist would have concept up such an cutting edge “priming the pump” resolution that led to India turning now not simply self-reliant but in addition the arena’s biggest milk manufacturer on the flip of the century.

Mission Incomplete

Unfortunately, the NDDB management post-Kurien selected another path utterly undermining the imaginative and prescient of farmers proudly owning establishments that gave them keep an eye on over the entire price chain from the sector to retail retailer. The Mother Dairy in Delhi, a subsidiary unit of NDDB at first envisaged to be passed over to the state cooperative federations, used to be transformed into a company entity competing with their manufacturers. For Kurien, cooperatives have been an editorial of religion. It led him to additionally start up an Oilseeds Growers’ Cooperative Project in 1979 that, inside a decade, had half-a-million-plus farmers underneath its fold. Operation Golden Flow used to be intended to do to vegetable oils what Operation Flood had completed in milk. Instead, NDDB’s ‘Dhara’, India’s best safe to eat oil logo until the nineties, impulsively misplaced marketplace proportion. This used to be similarly the result of the powers-that-be in New Delhi permitting unbridled safe to eat oil imports, which these days account for two-thirds of the rustic’s home intake and an annual foreign currency echange outgo of $11 billion.

Verghese Kurien along with his award. Express archive picture via RK Sharma

The NDDB and Indian policymakers nonetheless sing paeans to cooperatives. But the so-called farmer manufacturer organisations or corporations they discuss are, at absolute best, contract providers to huge corporates that take the cream and proportion the crumbs. That’s now not what Kurien had in thoughts when he dreamed of the agricultural manufacturer being empowered to take fee of her personal future. That dream shall are living endlessly. It is probably not a accident that Kurien’s start centenary coincides with 12 months of the farmers’ protests at Delhi’s borders. Fulfilling his dream will also be a long-lasting resolution for his or her restiveness.

(The author is National Rural Affairs & Agriculture Editor of The Indian Express and recently on sabbatical with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)

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