‘Farmers don’t commit SUICIDES where they have COOPERATIVES’: Verghese Kurien

June 22, 2007 | By | Reply More

Verghese KurienIndia, June 23: HAILED AS the father of the India’s White Revolution, Verghese Kurien was responsible for setting up the Anand model of cooperative dairy development. The movement transformed over 2.5 million farmers into stakeholders in the Amul brand, the country’s largest food product manufacturers. The former chairman of the now billion-dollar brand has also served as chairman of the National Dairy Development Board and the Institute of Rural Management, Anand. The Padma Vibhushan awardee, who made a controversial exit from the post of chairman of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation last year, told that farmers’ cooperatives, not SEZS, are the way ahead for rural India.

Amul is a billion-dollar brand. How do you look at its success?

Verghese Kurien: Well, if you ask Tribhuvandas Patel (the founder-chairman of Amul), who did all this, he would say Kurien was responsible for Amul’s success. If you ask me, my answer would be Tribhuvandas. But the truth is, he could not have done it without me, and I certainly could not have done it without him. We made a good combination. He was the then Gujarat State Congress president. He didn’t want to become a minister, but he said he would decide who should become ministers in Gujarat. He was a very influential person, but gave me a free hand in running Amul.

What is wrong with cooperatives in India?

Verghese Kurien: The problem with cooperatives in India is that they don’t have the independence to decide for themselves what they want to do. Instead, the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, who is a government officer and does what the government wants him to do, has the authority. But in the days when Patel was chairman, no registrar dared to interfere in the functioning of the organisation. At Amul, I considered myself as an employee of the farmers. It was entirely a farmers’ organisation. In a cooperative, the members should be vested with decision-making powers. The government should have nothing to do with it. Cooperatives have succeeded wherever they were able to assert themselves.

What could be done to better the functioning of the cooperatives?

Verghese Kurien: Abolish the post of the Registrar of Cooperative Societies. This post is occupied by IAS officers who don’t know the subject. Also, I have never understood why the Centre’s agriculture secretary should be a man who does not know agriculture. He is an IAS officer. Why should it be so? I think the time has come to abolish the IAS. There are qualified people in the country to run the cooperatives. The Institute of Rural Management, Anand, (IRMA) was created for that purpose – to produce hundreds of Kuriens. IRMA gets the best talent in the country.

Is there scope for improvement in running the milk cooperatives?

Verghese Kurien: Milk is perhaps the only agricultural commodity that needs to be sold twice a day. It is not like apples or oranges, which are seasonal. If milk is not sold immediately, it becomes a loss. Therefore, milk requires a cooperative. We have done quite well so far, but the cooperative system can be further strengthened and enlarged. If we abolish the bureaucracy in dairy and put the farmer in charge, this can be done. Let farmers employ professional managers to oversee operations. I was an employee of farmers. It is they who paid my salary, not the government. Let the farmer be in charge of the business. This model could be replicated in agriculture too. What is the Amul model? Every village has a milk society, which collects the milk. A number of societies together in a district form a union that has a processing plant. The unions come together to form a federation, which is the marketing agency. But the farmers should employ professional managers. Where are these professionals? That’s why we set up IRMA, to produce Kuriens. India has emerged as the world’s largest milk-producer. It didn’t happen by accident. A lot of planning went into it.

Is there a way we could stop farmer suicides in the country?

Verghese Kurien: Wherever farmers have had cooperatives, there have been no cases of suicides. It has happened only in places where there were no farmer institutions, where farmers didn’t have any say, where they were unable to market their produce and were exploited by middlemen. Wherever there is Amul, there has been no suicide. The solution lies in the formation of cooperatives all over the country. You should not underestimate the farmer’s ability to manage things, particularly when there is an institute that churns out professionals they could employ. IRMA produces such professionals.

Bharat and India are still not connecting. Development continues to be city-centric with the big-city mall-growth culture, and little of it appears to be percolating down to the villages. Is there an alternative to this model of development?

Verghese Kurien: You are asking me all these questions here in the city. But if you were in Mehsana district, you wouldn’t be asking these questions. We started the second Amul dairy at Mehsana, 100 miles north of Anand. It was a dry area, where there was no agriculture because the water table was 700 feet below ground level. I remember calling Morarji Desai to lay the foundation of a dairy at Mehsana, which would process a hundred thousand litres of milk daily. He said to me, “What is it you are doing? Do you know that the water table is 700 feet below the ground here? How could you have milk here?” I said that the chairman of the cooperative said there was milk here and I believed him. I believed that as a farmer, he knew what he was saying. But Desai said, “I don’t know how it’d happen.” It turned out that Mehsana became the largest milk cooperative in India. Today they are processing two million litres of milk a day. It is amazing what India is capable of doing in the absence of the bureaucratic stranglehold. The bureaucracy should become servants of the people. But they won’t change; they won’t let go.

Your model of success worked on the foundation of a cooperative movement as compared to the current model of private partnership that is being seen in every field, including agriculture. Will this work in India?

Verghese Kurien: At the time Amul was formed, there was Glaxo, Nestle, Horlicks, and Cadbury in India. What did Amul do? Amul took their pants off. I am not at all for private partnerships. In contract farming, the profit does not go the farmers. In the same way, private retailers obtain the produce from the farmer and sell it for a profit in the market. The profit does not go to the farmer. But in Amul, the profit is distributed each year back to the farmer in proportion to the milk he/she had given.

What is your view on special economic zones being promoted by the government in many places, and the resistance people have shown to it in places like Singur and Nandigram?

Verghese Kurien: Amul is a very big business. I don’t think anybody has set up a bigger business. Amul’s turnover has reached about Rs 4,000 crore. Agriculture constitutes 72 percent of the economy. The government has to give top priority to it. It should not be involved in acquisition of land for the industry. The governments should govern; they should not do business.

What is the development model you would suggest for rural India?

Verghese Kurien: We have demonstrated in milk that when you put the farmer in charge, we emerge as the largest milk-producing country in the world. That is enough demonstration for a model in agriculture. What more convincing is required?


Category: Knowledge for Development

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.