Thursday, May 17, 2012
Amul, the taste of success
Amul's mission was the development of farmers, nutrition to the nation and, heart in heart, the real development of India, says Varghese Kurien
What started as a small cooperative movement over six decades ago in a mid-sized town in the western state of Gujarat has now become an icon of rural empowerment, fashioning in the process what is called the white revolution to catapult India as the world's largest producer of milk.In 1946 a bright youth was sent to study dairy engineering at the Michigan State University on government scholarship but he came back with a masters in metallurgy and nuclear physics instead.
Even so, nothing could change what destiny had in store for Dr. Verghese Kurien - whose efforts towards the white revolution earned him the World Food Prize and the Magsaysay Award, apart from numerous other recognitions within and outside India.
A Syrian Christian born in southern Kerala, Kurien moved to the dusty town of Anand to set up a milk cooperative and his achievement made people revere him as the milkman of India.
The best testimony to his work, perhaps, is the varied range of products that now line shelves in shops all over India and abroad - going way beyond just milk to pasteurised butter, cheese, ice creams, chocolates, clarified butter, sweets and other products, including probiotic milk and sugar-free ice cream.
So much so that this brand name, along with its iconic mascot - a cute little girl in polka-dot skirt and catchy slogans -has even overtaken its parent, the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, in terms of both name and fame.
"Amul is the brand name of over two million farmers, members of 10,000 village dairy cooperative societies throughout Gujarat. This is the heart of Amul," said Kurien, who has since retired.
"This is what gives strength to Amul, and this is what is so special about the Amul saga."
Drawn from the Sanskrit word "amulya", or priceless, the Amul journey began in the tumultuous days before India's independence when the dairy cooperative was set up under the directions of Vallabhbhai Patel, then Congress leader who went on to become India's first home minister.
Two years later, Kurien returned from the US and in 1949 left his government job to help the newly-formed cooperative, Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union.
This led to the birth of Amul - the rest, as is often said, is history.
In 1966, Amul procured just 1,000 litres of milk a day, but today this has gone up to as much as 8.4 million litres. The $1.5 billion cooperative has 13,328 village societies as members, covering 2.79 million milk producers.
In the current financial year, the cooperative is expected to have crossed a turnover of $1.8 billion and expects to log $2.2 billion by the next fiscal.
"Amul is the symbol of the achievements of dairy cooperatives over the last 65 years," said B.M. Vyas, managing director of the cooperative.
"Simply put, Amul symbolises the genesis of a vast cooperative, the triumph of indigenous technology, the marketing savvy of a farmers' organisation, a proven model of dairy development, high quality products at reasonable prices - to sum it all up, a confident nation on the move."
According to Amul chairperson Ramsinh Parmar, the first effort to organise dairy cooperatives had actually started after the enactment of the Cooperative Societies Act, 1912.
"But it was in the 1940s that farmers of Kaira district organised themselves into a dairy cooperative and decided to process and sell milk directly after collecting it from its own members," Parmar said.
Statistics show that though steps to improve the quality of milch cattle began in the 1st Five Year Plan (1951 to 1956), the absence of a stable and remunerative market for milk saw production stagnate.
Between 1951 and 1970, milk production grew by barely one percent annually while in fact per capita availability declined by an equivalent amount.
Then came "Operation Flood".
"It was Operation Flood, implemented for the National Dairy Development Board from 1970 to 1996 by founder-chairman Dr. Kurien, who had an uninterrupted spell of 33 years, that radically transformed dairy development in India," said his close aide P.A. Joseph.
This programme ensured milk producers' cooperatives get well entrenched in villages and made modern technology available to them. It also increased milk production and augmented rural incomes, which went to the milk producer and not the middlemen.
More importantly, the programme empowered small rural producers, providing them with employment opportunities at their homes with steady returns.
Marginal landholdings make up 57 percent of rural households in India and thanks to such cooperatives dairying is a viable option even for the landless. Nearly 70 million Indian households hold a total of 98 million cows and buffaloes.
A majority of milk producers have one or two milch animals and these small producers account for some 70 percent of the milk production. On an average, 22.5 percent of the income of rural households is contributed by milk.
"Operation Flood essentially replicated the Anand pattern countrywide, joining village-level cooperatives to form district-level unions, which in turn joined in state-level marketing federations," said Joseph.
"The primary milk producer thus governs this entire federal cooperative structure."
The dairy major has also emerged as a role model of sorts, which many developing nations want to emulate. Earlier this year, Ethopian Ambassador to India Gennet Zewide visited Amul and expressed a desire to replicate the white revolution using the same model in their country.
The cooperative dairy movement is impacting lives in many other ways as well.
The Banas dairy, for example, a member of the Amul cooperative, started a unique initiative called the Internet Sewa Project in Banaskantha district in Gujarat.
This is a village-level effort at bridging the digital divide by providing information kiosks at the village cooperative level. Official forms, educational applications and local market prices are provided at the information kiosk so that people do not have to travel all the way to the district headquarters for this information.
From Banaskantha to IT capital Bangalore, Amul has branded itself on the lives of every Indian. Begin your day with Amul milk and pasteurised butter on toast. Lunch on Amul curd, have a snack with Amul cheeses and round off the day with some Amul chocolate.
It's all about Amul, and also about India.
As Kurien puts it: "Amul's mission was the development of farmers, nutrition to the nation and, heart in heart, the real development of India."