Milk farm­ers show that small can in fact be big


CON­SCI­EN­TIOUS vis­i­tors to In­dia would of­ten spot bill­boards sport­ing a hand-drawn car­toon of a girl in a polka-dot frock with blue hair and a pony­tail.

The im­age would carry a clever catch­phrase on a con­tem­po­rary is­sue. The catch­phrase would pack a punch, both sub­tle and sub­lime, through its play on words. The girl is af­fec­tion­ately known as “Amul Girl”, and is as pop­u­lar and loved as the brand af­ter which it has been named – Amul.

Amul, in­spired from the San­skrit word “Amulya”, which means price­less or pre­cious, stands for “Anand Milk Pro­duc­ers Union Limited”, de­riv­ing its name from Anand, a city in the Gu­jarat prov­ince of In­dia where it is based. The brand is owned by Gu­jarat Co-op­er­a­tive Milk Mar­ket­ing Fed­er­a­tion.

GCMMF, the apex or­gan­i­sa­tion of dairy co-op­er­a­tives in Gu­jarat is In­dia’s largest food prod­uct or­gan­i­sa­tion with an an­nual turnover of $4.5 bil­lion (R656.7bn) and is jointly owned by around 3.6 mil­lion milk pro­duc­ers (read small farm­ers) in Gu­jarat with daily milk pro­cure­ment to the tune of 18 mil­lion litres a day from more than 18 500 vil­lage milk co-op­er­a­tive so­ci­eties cov­er­ing 33 dis­tricts.

How­ever, In­dia’s largest ex­porter of dairy prod­ucts had a hum­ble be­gin­ning and a la­bo­ri­ous con­cep­tion. A few years be­fore In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence in 1947, farm­ers in Kaira or Kheda, a district in Gu­jarat, were ek­ing out a tough ex­is­tence, as were their com­pa­tri­ots in other parts of the coun­try.

The milk pro­cure­ment and mar­ket­ing sys­tem was con­trolled by con­trac­tors and mid­dle­men which en­sured hefty profit margi ns from the sale of milk to all but the farm­ers. The farm­ers, who were gen­er­ally il­lit­er­ate but not un­wise, could see the en­tire sys­tem was geared against them.

They were con­strained be­cause of the lack of bar­gain­ing power, ac­cess to sup­ply chains and mar­ket­ing chan­nels. Value ad­di­tion by turn­ing milk into milk prod­ucts was an un­vi­able propo­si­tion in view of a lack of proper stor­age.

A del­e­ga­tion of farm­ers went to Sar­dar Pa­tel, the tow­er­ing fig­ure of In­dia’s strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence, one of the found­ing fa­thers of mod­ern In­dia and the man who is cred­ited for en­sur­ing the in­te­gra­tion of 562 princely states into a uni­fied, in­de­pen­dent In­dia. Sar­dar Pa­tel ad­vised them to com­bine their forces and mar­ket the milk through a co-op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety of their own. He pre­scribed self-reliance by set­ting up the co-op­er­a­tive’s own pas­teuri­sa­tion plant.

He ad­vised that should per­mis­sion by the colo­nial gov­ern­ment for set­ting up such a co-op­er­a­tive be re­jected, they could go on a strike and refuse to sell milk to the con­trac­tors and mid­dle­men.

An avid dis­ci­ple of Ma­hatma Gandhi, Sar­dar Pa­tel was draw­ing a leaf from the tried and tested method­olo­gies per­fected over the course of strug­gle of in­de­pen­dence in the last sev­eral decades.

Mo­rarji De­sai, Sar­dar Pa­tel’s trusted lieu­tenant and a fel­low Gand­hian, was de­puted to Kheda to steer the ef­forts in or­gan­is­ing the milk co-op­er­a­tive. In a meet­ing in Jan­uary 1946, it was de­cided to or­gan­ise milk pro­duc­ers’ co-op­er­a­tive so­ci­eties in each vil­lage of the Kaira district in or­der to col­lect milk from their mem­ber farm­ers. All the milk so­ci­eties would join into a union which would own milkpro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

Ex­pect­edly, the colo­nial gov­ern­ment turned down the de­mand re­sult­ing in a milk strike by the farm­ers. The com­bined might of the small farm­ers forced the hand of the pow­er­ful colo­nial gov­ern­ment; Kaira District Co-op­er­a­tive Milk Pro­duc­ers’ Union Limited, Anand, was reg­is­tered in De­cem­ber, 1946, un­leash­ing the co-op­er­a­tive move­ment in a soon to be in­de­pen­dent In­dia. From just a hand­ful of farm­ers pro­duc­ing about 250 litres a day, the move­ment grew to 432 farm­ers pro­duc­ing 5 000 litres a day in 1948.

En­ter Dr Vergh­ese Kurien, a young dairy en­gi­neer who joined Amul in 1949. Earn­ing the so­bri­quet of “the milk­man of In­dia” in years to come, the charis­matic Kurien led Amul into an awe-in­spir­ing move­ment with the power to change the ru­ral land­scape through the won­der of co-op­er­a­tives.

Jawa­har­lal Nehru, In­dia’s first prime min­is­ter in­au­gu­rated the first fac­tory in Oc­to­ber, 1955.

In 1964, the then prime min­is­ter Lal Ba­hadur Shas­tri, dur­ing his visit to in­au­gu­rate Amul’s cat­tle-feed plant, ex­pressed his de­sire to Dr Kurien to repli­cate the Amul model through­out In­dia. Thus, was born the Na­tional Dairy De­vel­op­ment Board with its of­fice at Anand and Kurien as the founder chair­per­son.

The board sub­se­quently con­cep­tu­alised and led a trans­for­ma­tive dairy de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme in In­dia pop­u­larly known as “Op­er­a­tion Flood” or “White Rev­o­lu­tion”. The pro­gramme, stands to be the largest dairy de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme drawn in the world, po­si­tion­ing In­dia as the largest milk-pro­duc­ing na­tion in the world.

There has been no look­ing back since then and the prod­uct port­fo­lio cov­ers the en­tire spec­trum. In a cra­dle-to-grave ar­range­ment, Amul of­fers end-to-end ser­vices to farm­ers through cat­tle feed, sup­ply chains, vet­eri­nary ser­vices, cat­tle breed im­prove­ments and so on.

Amul proves that small is big and a bot­tom-up ap­proach can do won­ders. The famed Amul model of dairy de­vel­op­ment is a three-tiered struc­ture with the dairy co-op­er­a­tive so­ci­eties at vil­lage level fed­er­ated un­der a milk union at the district level and a fed­er­a­tion of mem­ber unions at state level.

A truly re­verse-pyra­mid in op­er­a­tion, de­liv­er­ing hand­some re­turns to the stake­hold­ers.

Amul’s pop­u­lar brand slo­gan is “Amul: the taste of In­dia”. It could very well be called “Amul: the story of In­dia”.

Shukla is the In­dian con­sul-gen­eral in Cape Town

Mokapela is a se­nior lec­turer in the De­part­ment of Xhosa at the Uni­ver­sity of Western Cape.

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