A reader alerted me to an obituary for Verghese Kurien who revolutionised India’s milk industry.
Verghese Kurien, who has died aged 90, did for India’s dairy industry what Norman Borlaug did for its cereal production, launching a “white revolution” which ended chronic shortages and turned India into the world’s largest milk producer; he became known as “the milkman of India”.
In the 1950s small Indian dairy farmers were dependent on Polson’s, a dairy giant founded in India in 1915, which by the Second World War had established a monopoly. Farmers had to travel long distances to deliver milk to the Polson dairies and often the milk went sour en route. The prices of buffalo and cow milk were arbitrarily determined and, because farmers were unable to sell their milk to any other vendor, they were generally paid a pittance.
During the war, a group of farmers from the Kaira district of Gujarat approached the Indian nationalist leader Vallabhbhai Patel complaining of their inability to send their milk production to the markets without being fleeced by Polson’s. He advised them to form a co-operative and supply milk directly to their main market in Bombay. In 1946, following a milk strike, the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union was born.
An engineer by training, Kurien became involved in the milk industry in the late 1940s, when he took a temporary job with the union, then still struggling for survival against Polson. With Tribhuvandas Patel, the then chairman of the union, he set up a modern milk processing plant and created a new dairy co-operative called the Anand Milk Union (Amul).
The success of the co-operative started a movement which spread rapidly in Gujarat. Subsequently the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), an umbrella body, was formed under Kurien’s chairmanship to ensure that the different co-operatives did not compete against one another and to coordinate marketing under the Amul brand name. . .
Another initiative was the opening of the world’s first plant producing milk powder from buffalo milk.
. . . In 1970 he launched Operation Flood, a huge development programme with the objective of creating a nationwide milk grid linking 10 million milk producers through 96,000 dairy co-operatives, with consumers in more than 700 towns and cities. Over the next 25 years the programme made India the largest producer of milk and milk products in the world. Milk production increased from 20 million tonnes a year in the 1960s to 122 million tonnes in 2011. . .
The world is a better place for entrepreneurs like this.