Remembering the father of ‘Milk Revolution’

Remembering the father of ‘Milk Revolution’

- in Nature, NGI Stories
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To the world, the White Revolution was flagged off by the person known as the ‘Milkman of India’. He is seen as the ‘brain behind Operation Flood’ – the chief architect, who made India the largest milk producer in the world. But, a little-known fact is that Tribhuvandas Patel is actually the person behind this movement, who started it all, details Dr. N.S. Rajaram. In fact, it was the brilliant pairing of Verghese Kurien and Tribhuvandas Patel – that rewrote history for India

India has retained its leadership as the world’s largest milk producer for the last 15 years, observed Mr Rana Kapoor, President, Assocham India in an article he wrote in Hindu Business Line, on February 9, 2014.

This has largely been made possible by Operation Flood — which ushered in the White Revolution in India. Production estimates stand at 132.43 million tonnes for 2012-13, accounting for approximately 17 per cent of global milk production. Unlike the other major milk producing countries, the growth story in India was driven largely by small scale farmers.

For all practical purposes, it’s Verghese Kurien, who has been given the distinction of being described as ‘the man behind Operation Flood’, the chief architect who made India the largest milk producer in the world. He is remembered for the fact that he helped modernise the Anand model of cooperative dairy development and engineered the White Revolution in India. The White Revolution was the result of Operation Flood, a three-part project spanning 26 years.

But, a little-known fact is that Tribhuvandas Patel is actually the person who started it all.

Tribhuvandas Patel – the actual pioneer, who snowballed the movement

While Verghese Kurien is rightly famous for his contributions to India’s White Revolution, its actual founder Tribhuvandas Patel does not feature prominently, in the public eye. It was actually, his vision of networking milk cooperatives into a national grid, that laid the foundation for Kurien to implement the plan and carefully manouvre the path to make India the world leader in milk production. Tribhuvandas was also the founder of AMUL, a name that is today, virtually synonymous with milk and milk products in India.

Born on October 22, 1903 in the village of Anand in Gujarat, Tribhuvandas Kishibhai Patel actually brought glory to this village. He made this village internationally famous, by founding the Anand Milk Union Limited or AMUL. Founded in 1946 as a small cooperative, the group’s turnover reached Rs 19,100 crore or $3.2 billion, revealed Chairman Vipul M Chaudhary, as he announced its results at its Annual General Meeting, on June 25, 2013. The AMUL model has spawned many imitators in milk production and in food industry in general.

Elevating the ‘doodhwala’ to a key player in India’s economy

At the grassroot level, Verghese Kurien made the ordinary, neighbourhood ‘doodhwala’ (milkman) a key player in the country’s journey to economic development and progress.

Catapulting India to the world’s largest milk producer, was a feat that Kurien managed way back in the 1970s, a time when the country faced grim uncertainties over its food security. So, it was no small achievement.

Widely acknowledged as the architect of India’s White Revolution, Kurien was the founder-chairman of National Dairy Development Board (1965-98) and also chairman of Gujarat Co-Operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (GCMMF)(1973-2006), and also the Institute of Rural management (1979-2006), dedicated his life to the cause of empowering the lowly Indian farmer through co-operatives. He strongly believed that by placing technology and professional management in the hands of the farmers, the standard of living of millions of India’s rural poor could be improved; and, this was a rich tribute to Kurien’s management skills.

The White Revolution also served as a model for solar energy production also, especially in combination with the proposed national river grid.tribhuvandas-patel

Tribhuvandas Patel, father of the Milk Revolution

When he was young, Tribhuvandas came under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel and participated in the Freedom Movement. Like it happened to many freedom fighters, he was imprisoned several times in 1930, 1935 and 1942. At that time, he grew very close to Sardar Patel, who was also a Gujarati like himself. He impressed him with his capacity to mobilize people and motivate them to work towards a common goal. This was the lesson he took to heart, when as early as the 1940s, he began working with the farmers in the Kheda District under the guidance of Sardar Patel. Soon he set up the milk cooperative union in his native village of Anand to which he was closely attached. Surprising though it may seem today, he was the first chairman of AMUL.

Triggering off a brilliant move -Tribhuvandas brought in Kurien

As the milk cooperative began to grow, he recognized the need for professional management skills that he was honest enough to acknowledge that he did not possess. In 1950, he brought in a brilliant young manager called Verghese Kurien to run AMUL – the rest is history.

Credited to be AMUL’s first Chairman, it was totally in character when he handed over the chairmanship to Verghese Kurien, as the organization started to grow rapidly, flushed with funds received from foreign sources. Young at 29, Varghese Kurien was chosen by Tribhuvandas to lead AMUL – a journey that he started and managed so wonderfully.

This ‘jugalbandhi’ between these two great personalities created such a huge impact on the economic graph of India. It’s plain for all to see.

Not overtly ambitious, but he was rewarded

But the crucial role played by Tribhuvandas’s contribution did not go unrecognized. He was conferred the Ramon Magasasay Award in 1963. This award was followed by the Padmabhushan, that came the next year. Given the magnitude and impact of his contribution, one may feel today that the recognition this honourable son of the soil got, was perhaps not adequate.

Another factor, so untypical for an Indian leader, was the fact that Tribhuvandas was not overtly ambitious for position, nor did he hanker for personal glory. When he voluntarily retired from the chairmanship of AMUL, the people (not the Government) rewarded him with Rs 6 lakhs; this actually represented one rupee contribution each, from six lakh grateful members of the cooperatives he had helped to start! And, what he did with this money was also very noble – he used this fund to start a charitable trust, named the Tribhuvandas Foundation – an NGO, that worked on women and child health in his native Kheda district.

At an international workshop, Dr (Ms) Amrita Patel, Chairperson of the National Dairy Development Board, described the Tribhuvandas Foundation as:

“Tribhuvandas Foundation, which is Asia’s largest NGO, works in over 600 villages in the State in the field of maternal and infant care. What is unique about the program of the Foundation is that it rides on the back of milk. It is the village milk co-operative that appoints a village health worker and pays an honorarium to the village health worker to undertake the work. So it is milk paying for health.”

The AMUL model and its far-reaching impact

The Tribhuvandas-Kurien model was recently appraised by the World Bank in its recent evaluation report. With an investment of Rs. 20 billion, the program spread over 20 years in 70s & 80s had contributed considerably to increase India’s milk production by 40 Million Metric Tons (MMT) i.e. from about 20 MMT to more than 60 MMT in less than 20 years.

This movement, in fact, hold a record of sorts. This was the most beneficial project, funded by the World Bank anywhere in the world. Thus, an incremental return of Rs. 400 billion annually was generated by an investment of Rs. 20 billion over a period of 20 years. One can continue to see the effect of these efforts as India’s milk production continues to on a growth path. Despite increase in milk production, there was no drop in the price of milk, during the period. And, another glaring fact was that that milk producers, who constituted the cooperatives also prospered.

It also yielded major nutritional gains. While the country’s milk production tripled between the years 1971 to 1996, the per capita milk consumption doubled from 111 gms per day in 1973 to 222 gms per day in 2000. Thus, these cooperatives were not just been instrumental in economic development of the rural society of India, but also has provided the vital ingredient for improving health and nutritional requirement of the Indians, by and large. Very few industries of India can boast of such parallel stories of development, spread over such a huge population.

And, this not the full story. These milk cooperatives were responsible in uplifting the social and economic status of the women in particular, as women were basically involved in dairying while the men in the family, got busy with agriculture. This initiative also provided a definite source of income to the women, ultimately leading to their economic emancipation.

The ideal pair – the visionary and the manager

So, it seems a great pity that a true national hero like Tribhuvandas virtually remains unknown to the public.

But fact is, for all to see is that they made a great pair. Tribhuvandas Patel and Verghese Kurien – the visionary and the manager. And the people of India are fortunate that they had such a dedicated and selfless pair to serve them, which brought such a huge impact on the economy.

This lesson actually goes beyond the achievement of two individuals. What is exemplary is to recognize and learn from the spectacular success of Tribhuvandas Patel’s approach, based on empowering local cooperatives.

So, one cannot exactly say that Tribhuvandas was consigned to oblivion.

Think big, but start small

The White Revolution is actually a living example of the old saying, “Think big, but start small.” Today, research managers know that when venturing into uncharted waters, it is better to start on a small-scale; at this stage, the problems become easy to identify while the cost of failure is still small. A bureaucratic mindset on the other hand, prefers the reverse approach of a massive program with unclear goals, such as NREGA (National Rural Employment Guaranty Act) that has drained the national exchequer while producing no tangible results. The same money allocated to a few pilot projects in river linking (and solar networks) would have provided a valuable learning experience that might have come in handy. On hind sight, it would also have given productive employment to thousands.

Another positive outcome of the localized approach that the Milk Revolution followed, was that it benefitted all segments of the population, beginning with the milk producer. In contrast, the software and services boom, when it happened, benefitted a small urban elite, leaving most of the country’s population untouched. Developing the infrastructure based on river linking and solar power at the local level, will benefit everyone while simultaneously providing meaningful employment to millions.

Gujarat has already shown what is possible. Combining this with Tribhuvanadas’s vision of local cooperatives will lead to a revolution in India’s destiny. But first, it is necessary to get rid of ivory-tower strategists. What the country needs clearly are achievers, who can turn around the fortune of the country.

India is slated to witness a boom in dairy demand of over 6 per cent annually. However, the average annual growth in supply is only a little over 4 per cent per annum. The demand-supply interplay effect is evident in steadily rising milk prices in the recent past. We clearly need a Second White Revolution, according to Rana Kapoor. And, that would certainly rewrite history for the country, second time round.

So, it would be appropriate to conclude with the dictum – play it forward, India…for only you will be gainer, and also the 1.2 billion Indians whose fortunes are hitched on to you.

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Somanjana Chatterjee

Somanjan Chatterjee is San Francisco based consulting editor