Victor Hugo, the famous 19th century French novelist,
poet and dramatist said that there was one thing stronger
than all the armies in the world, and that was an idea
whose time had come. Dr
Verghese Kurien found such an idea in 1946, rolled
up his sleeves, and got down to raising an army of milk
producers; today his 'army ' of the White
Revolution `activists' all over India stands over
As a result of his nearly four decades of sustained
efforts to bring the benefits of modern technology and
marketing to the ordinary dairy farmer, in 1998 India
surpassed the US to become the world's largest producer
of milk with an annual growth rate 5-6 per cent, against
the world's 1 per cent.
Born on 26 November 1921 in Calicut (now Kozhikode),
a seaport in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Kurien
arrived in May 1949 at the dairy department of the government
of India in Anand, now in India's western state of Gujarat,
to take charge as the dairy engineer. Kurien worked
here for seven months.
India had just gained Independence. Kurien recalls
that Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, then the home minister,
wanted the farmers to organise themselves to control
milk production, procurement and marketing, and free
themselves from the control of traders and middlemen.
He wanted to entrust these tasks to qualified professionals,
and this is where Kurien grabbed the buffalo by her
Kurien quit his job to become the manager of the Kaira
District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union, Anand, (now
Amul) where its founder and the 1963 Roman Magsaysay
Award winner Tribhuvandas Patel was trying to organise
the 200-odd milk producers of the surrounding Kaira
district into a cooperative for supplying milk to the
government-run Bombay Milk Scheme. Kurien infused the
fledgling organisation with his pioneering drive and
expertise in modern technology and management, and powerful
marketing and branding strategies, while at the same
time preserving and vitalising the cooperative spirit
of the venture.
Sceptics had their doubts: Could 'natives' handle sophisticated
dairy equipment? Could western-style milk products be
processed from buffalo milk? Could a mere farmers' cooperative
market butter and cheese to sophisticated urban consumers?
The Amul team farmers and Kurien's professionals
together confounded the cynics by processing
a variety of high-grade dairy products, several of them
for the first time from buffalo milk, and marketing
them nationally against competition from professionally
managed corporate rivals.
Kurien also had to forge his way through hurdles created
by the "milk lobby" the powerful dairy
traders and local panchayat and zilla politicians
whose financial clout depended on their control
of the milk trade, which the cooperative threatened.
Kurien's cooperative venture was built on a simple but
compelling logic mass consumption and mass production
must go hand in hand to bring all round prosperity.
He led the producers in their struggle for command
over the resources they created, a struggle to obtain
equitable returns and a struggle for liberation from
dependence on middlemen, a struggle against exploitation.
It was an impossible task, and at times he faced threats
to his life.
The result was the now famous Amul
pattern (or Anand pattern), evolved by Kurien, which
eventually became a global role model for dairying as
an instrument of rural development. In India the model
has been extended to other commodities like edible oil,
fruits, vegetables and salt.
Amul (acronym for Anand Milk Union Ltd) was the brand
name adopted by the cooperative for its milk and
milk products, while Kurien went on to establish the
state level Gujarat Milk Marketing Federation Ltd in
1973. Amul is today the largest food brand in India,
with a wide range of products.
Citing Kurien's "extraordinary and dynamic leadership"
in 1965 prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri mooted the
creation of the National
Dairy Development Board (NDDB) , to replicate the
Amul pattern on a nationwide basis, and named him chairman,
a post he held till 1998.
The Indian parliament endorsed Kurien's work by passing
an Act in 1987, declaring NDDB as an institution of
national importance. As founder chairman of NDDB Kurien
catalysed the modernisation of India's dairy industry
and triggered a nationwide dairy cooperative movement.
As chairman of NDDB Dr Kurien's major engagement was
Flood, a spectacularly successful multipurpose programme
that created a flood of milk that turned scarcity into
surplus, popularly known as the White Revolution. Operation
Flood ran under Kurien's leadership in three phases
for 26 years, with three principal objectives:
- Making dairying India's largest self-sustainable
rural employment programme
- Bringing India close to self-sufficiency in milk
- Trebling the nation's milk production within a span
of two-and-a-half decades to make India the world's
largest milk producer
In 1979 Dr Kurien spearheaded the establishment of
of Rural Management at Anand (IRMA), which has the
mandate of contributing to the professional management
of rural organisations. It works closely with cooperatives,
NGOs, governments and national and international agencies.
The main strength of Kurien's illustrious pursuit lies
in the fact that he successfully built a truly Indian
brand that is globally competitive, while keeping the
producing, owning and marketing firmly in the hands
of millions of farmers.
Kurien's professional life has been dedicated to empowering
millions of humble Indian milk producers, in whom he
saw an unsuspected economic resource and potential at
the bottom of the pyramid. ''Without their involvement,
we cannot succeed. With their involvement, we cannot
fail...'' remains his simple but fail-safe inspiration.
Kurien has churned up an economic miracle by turning
a milk-scarce India of the '50s and '60s into a land
of surplus by the '70s and brought prosperity to ten-million
grassroots milk producers. When they walk the path to
the local milk collection centres every morning with
their pots full of milk, it is indeed a happy hour for
Dr Kurien, the irrepressible milkman of India.
Compiled by Shubha Khandekar