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India@75: Meet Verghese Kurien, the father of White Revolution

As part of Independence Day celebrations, we honour those whose contributions left an indelible mark in India's growth story. Meet Verghese Kurien, the social entrepreneur and visionary behind India's White Revolution and who authored the success of Gujarat's Amul milk cooperative. The 'Milkman of India' laid the foundation stone for the dairy industry in India

India @ 75 Meet Verghese Kurien the father of White Revolution gcw
New Delhi, First Published Aug 12, 2022, 1:29 PM IST

Verghese Kurien, a social entrepreneur also referred to as the "Father of the White Revolution" in India, created the greatest self-sustaining business and the largest rural employment sector in the country. Dairy farming now accounts for a third of all rural revenue.

Kurien, who was born on November 26, 1921, to a civil surgeon in Kozhikode, Kerala, attended Loyola College in Chennai and earned a degree in physics there in 1940 before enrolling in the Guindy College of Engineering, where he went on to get a mechanical engineering degree. 

Before travelling to the US to attend Michigan State University on a government grant, he enrolled in the Tata Steel Technical Institute in Jamshedpur. He obtained a Master of Science in mechanical engineering in 1948. Upon his return from the United States in 1949, he was sent by the Union government to a creamery in Anand, Gujarat where he worked for five years as an officer in the dairy division. There he met Tribhuvandas Patel, a farmer-unificationist working to combat exploitation by organising the farmers into a cooperative movement. 

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Kurien was moved by the man and decided to accompany him. Although Polson Dairy, a rival dairy company, put tremendous pressure on Patel when he established the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union Limited, Kurien opted to continue supporting Patel's efforts.

The Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union Limited (KDCMPUL), established in 1946 with the goal of transforming India from a formerly milk-deficient country into one of the greatest milk producers in the world, played a crucial part in the White Revolution. 

A process for producing milk powder and condensed milk from buffalo milk was developed by Kurien's friend and dairy specialist HM Dalaya. As to that moment, only cow's milk could be used to produce such processed goods, revolutionising the Indian dairy business. The Amul Dairy was so prosperous that several of Gujarat's neighbouring areas quickly adopted its business model.

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His innovative efforts inspired the country's first prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, to form the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in 1965 in order to spread the cooperative programme throughout the whole nation and Kurien became the chairman. 

In 1973, he additionally established the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation. Kurien received several honours and accolades from over the world, but two in particular stand out: the Ramon Magsaysay Award for civic leadership and the 1963 World Food Prize (1989). Kurien won various honours for his unwavering support of the dairy and farming industries, including the Padma Shri (1965), the Padma Bhushan (1966), and the Padma Vibhushan (1999). He received honorary degrees from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Michigan State University. 

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Kurien was married to Molly with whom he had a daughter, Nirmala. Having lived a long, productive life, he died in 2012 at the age of 90, following a brief illness. He authored “I Too Had A Dream”, an inspiring narrative about the empowerment of farmers and development of milk cooperatives India. Atul Bhide conceptualised and produced the audio version of the book. Meanwhile, Manthan, a movie directed by Shyam Benegal, is based on Verghese Kurien, the man responsible for the milk movement in India. 

One-third of rural family income in India comes from dairy, the only agricultural crop in which farmers receive between 70 and 80 percent of the ultimate market value. According to the FAO 2018 report, more than 500 million people worldwide are considered to be living in poverty, and many of them are small and marginal dairy farmers. As a result, we can say that this industry has improved farmer livelihood, created jobs, supported agricultural industrialization and commercialization, and improved public nutrition.

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