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Verghese Kurien (26 November 1921 – 9 September 2012), known as the ‘Father of the White Revolution’ in India, was a social entrepreneur whose billion-litre idea, Operation Flood – the world’s largest agricultural dairy development programme, made dairy farming India’s largest self-sustaining industry and the largest rural employment provider, being a third of all rural income, with benefits of raising incomes and credit, riddance of debt dependence, nutrition, education, health, gender parity and empowerment, breakdown of caste barriers and grassroots democracy and leadership. It made India the world’s largest milk producer from a milk-deficient nation, which doubled milk available per person and increased milk output four-fold, in 30 years.
He pioneered the Anand pattern of dairy cooperatives to replicate it nationwide, based on Amul, his standalone cooperative then, and today India’s largest food brand, where 70–80% of the price paid by consumers went as cash to dairy farmers who controlled the marketing, the procurement and the processing of milk and milk products as the cooperative’s owners, while hiring professionals for their skills and inducting technology, in managing it. Rather than focusing directly on removing caste and class conflicts which get entrenched as vested interests, instead, he worked singularly on the belief that economic self-interest of all sections of the village-society would make them align together to grow their cooperative. A key invention at Amul, the world’s first, was the production of milk powder from the abundant buffalo-milk, instead of from the conventional cow-milk, short in supply in India. He thus got dairy farmers organised in the villages and linked them directly to consumers in the market by eliminating middlemen, ensuring them a steady and a regular income even during the lean season, and a better quality produce at a competitive price, to the consumer in the large market of the reachable Bombay city, on a steady supply over well-paved village “milk roads” and a ‘cold-chain’. He surmounted skepticism and adversity with his indefatigable fighting spirit and outmaneuvering skills. This helped him capture a commanding share of the market there which got him wide attention.
When he succeeded in this venture, he had the foresight to shrewdly use the clout resulting from its recognition, by employing his networking skills and resources at his command effectively, in negotiating international help and support from the governments of at least 9 prime ministers of the country, all on terms set by him, over more than 5 decades. Termed “a crocodile who swims in milk”, he would steadfastly stave off, encroachment by multinational companies on markets nurtured by him, and interference by politicians and bureaucrats while building his cooperatives to national scale and founding institutions.
He also made India self-sufficient in edible oils, taking on a powerful, entrenched and violently resistant oil supplying cartel. He is regarded as one of the greatest proponents of the cooperative movement in the world, which emphasises production by the masses over mass-production, with his work having lifted millions out of poverty in India and outside.