The World Food Prize Foundation

1989: Kurien

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Dr. Verghese Kurian

India

Verghese Kurien, the "Father of the White Revolution," transformed India's dairy industry, making India the largest milk producing country in the world. His "Operation Flood" organized 86,000 farmer-owned cooperatives to produce, process, and market milk for India's rural and urban areas, providing nearly 250 million people with enhanced nutrition through dairy products. Kurien's career was dedicated to streamlining effective management and distribution strategies with the skills and knowledge of rural and small-scale producers.


Full Biography

Verghese Kurien was born on November 26, 1921, in Kerala, India. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Madras University in 1940 and went on to receive a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the same university in 1943. He subsequently was awarded a Master of Science and Mechanical Engineering degree with distinction from Michigan State University in 1948 while on a government scholarship. He also completed special studies in engineering at the Tata Iron and Steel Company Institute at Jamshedpur, Bihar, in 1946 and completed nine months of specialized training in dairy engineering at the National Dairy Research Institute of Bangalore.

In India, during Kurien’s youth and early career, approximately two-thirds of the population was involved in agriculture. Most were smallholder farmers, and many worked land owned by other people. Even these landless laborers, however, kept a few buffalo or cattle to produce milk. In the late 1940s and earlier, private dairies, middlemen, and inefficient collection and distribution systems resulted in milk of varying quality being sporadically available across the country, often at high prices to consumers but with little profit for the producers. Many Indian people did not have access to milk or the nutrients it provides on a regular basis.

With his extensive background in mechanical engineering, Kurien began work for the Dairy Department of the Government of India as a dairy engineer in Anand, Gujarat, at the Government Research Creamery in 1949. He used his experience to work with the manager of the local Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union to build an in-house processing plant and organize the cooperative to handle its own marketing directly to consumers.

After years of initial struggle, the cooperative began to produce dramatic results, involving over two million farmers. This led to the birth of the largest food product business in India, known as Amul. Based on its successes, Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri created the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in 1965 to replicate the model nationally, with Kurien as chairman.

The Prime Minister cited Kurien’s extraordinary and dynamic leadership upon naming him chairman. In collaboration with farmers, cooperative managers, and public officials, Kurien successfully established the dairy program known across India as “Operation Flood” that, between 1970 and 1996, allowed dairy farmers to own and operate milk production, processing, and marketing facilities serving the urban areas around the country.

When Operation Flood began in 1970, total annual milk procurement was only 190,000 tons, with 278,000 farmers involved in the program. By 1998, at the time of Kurien’s retirement as chairman, the NDDB’s programs involved more than 10 million dairy producers in 81,000 cooperatives, supplying almost five million tons of milk annually to over 1,000 cities and towns throughout the country. Reaching nearly 250 million people, Operation Flood was the largest agricultural development program in the world. India emerged as the largest producer of milk in the world in 1998, surpassing the United States.

In 40 years, India’s annual milk production increased from 23.3 million tons (1968-69) to 100.9 million tons (2006-07). Daily per capita milk consumption in India more than doubled from a low of 107 grams in 1970 to over 240 grams in 2006. The country’s dairy supply began growing about four percent annually while the population was growing by less than two percent, thus increasing the per capita availability of dietary proteins, especially in areas identified as suffering from nutritional deficits.

As a result of Kurien’s leadership, domestic milk prices stabilized, India’s towns and cities were able to receive an adequate supply of hygienic milk, and the millions of small farmers and landless laborers who made up the majority of dairy cooperative membership gained a regular source of income.

Despite these achievements, perhaps Kurien’s greatest contribution with Operation Flood was to put the farmer in command as the owner of his or her own cooperative – a pivotal factor in the program’s success.

Endowed with decision-making capacities, some leaders in cooperative-member communities have built facilities like libraries and healthcare centers with their profits. The success of the Operation Flood management model led to its application to other commodities. Fruits and vegetables are now produced and marketed through a cooperative system involving a network of more than 250 farmer-owned retail stores in Delhi.

Kurien held positions ranging from the Chancellor of the University of Allahabad to a member of the Advisory Committee of the South Asian Network on Fermented Foods to chairman of the Viksit Bharat Foundation. He also served as chairman of the National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India Limited. Kurien was instrumental in establishing the Institute of Rural Management in 1979, which has trained thousands of specialists in the management and development of rural cooperatives, non-governmental organizations, and civic groups.

Known as the “Father of the White Revolution” and also as the “Milkman of India,” for his prodigious accomplishments, Kurien was presented The World Food Prize in 1989.

His additional honors and awards are numerous, but most notable are the Carnegie Foundation’s Wateler Peace Prize in 1986, International Person of the Year Award by the World Dairy Expo in 1993, Ordre du Merite Agricole by the Government of France in 1997, the 1999 Padma Vibhushan Award - India’s second highest civilian honor, and the 2000 Regional Award from the Asian Productivity Organization in Japan. Kurien received more than 15 honorary degrees from universities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and India.

“Innovation cannot be mandated or forced on people,” Kurien once said. “It is everywhere, a function of the quality of the people and the environment. We need to have enough skilled people working in a self-actuating environment to produce innovation.”

Additional Links

Amul

Institute of Rural Management

National Dairy Development Board

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