It all began at Anand, a place in Kaira district, Gujarat famous for its Dairy Industry. It was ruled by some old players who started their dairy in 1890s and 1910s. However during the 1920s a new entrant called as “Polson”, which was led by a shrewd but clever Parsi businessman known as “Pestonjee Edulji” entered the market. He started supplying Polson butter to the British Army and its milk products soon became a household name. He built a large dairy in Anand in the year 1930. Once he was asked by the Bombay milk scheme whether it was possible for him to supply milk from Anand to Bombay – some 350 kilometers away. Never before had liquid milk travelled such long distances, but Pestonjee was not the man who would let the opportunity go.
He pasteurized milk and transported it to Bombay in a rather primitive fashion in milk cans wrapped up in gunny bags with chilled water poured on the cans. The experiment worked and very soon Bombay became an important market for Polson. With this Pestonjee started developing good relations with the government officials and he would persuade them to make arrangement so that he could get benefit out of it. Pestonjee knew that the main source of milk is the Kaira district so he persuaded the government officials to make arrangements that only Polson dairy could procure milk from the district. His wish was granted and Pestonjee started monopolizing the market; he started selling products to the people at higher prices and started exploiting farmers by paying them less for their produce and since Pestonjee monopolized the market, the milk producers had no option but become the victim of exploitation.
By 1945, the Polson dairy was flourishing and the farmers were getting more and more exploited, leading to animosity among the farmers and hence the seeds of the movements were sown..
It was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s vision that led to the growth of the cooperative movement. After fighting for and winning the freedom he recognized that independence was more than a political task. He knew that the rural people could never become completely free until they were liberated from the exploitation of money lenders, burdens of the social ills and the caste and class discrimination. He addressed the problems of building rural institutions and educating rural people for their development.
Sardar Patel urged the dairy farmers to organize milk cooperatives, which would give them control over the resources they generated. He assigned Morarji Desai, his deputy, to coordinate this effort. Morarji Desai organized a meeting where he asked people to become the chairman of the cooperative and take the work ahead. A few people volunteered, but Morarjibhai chose Tribhuvandas Patel who was a committed freedom fighter and the elected vice president of the Kaira district congress committee. Tribhuvandas was a man of integrity and honour and he started the cooperative by organizing the dairy farmers and he soon managed to form a couple of cooperative societies. Although the farmers were ready to take their leader’s advice but since milk was such a perishable commodity, farmers had to accept the price that the contractor offered and also Polson would use every trick in the book to procure milk at lower prices by accusing the milk producers that their milk lacks quality. Farmers got fed up of the daily exploitation and Tribhuvandas met Sardar Patel to seeka solution. Patel gave him a simple solution that if they wanted to stop exploitation then they need to remove Polson from the market by capturing the Bombay market for which they need to gather the masses and the cooperative needs to own the dairy. Only, then they could pressurize the Bombay Milk scheme (BMS) to buy milk from them and not Polson. However, Pestonjee’s reach was stronger than the cooperative’s and Tribhuvandas and company’s plea was rejected. In protest of the BMS, the cooperative society went on a 15 day strike, famously recalled in history as the Kaira strike. The farmers collected the milk and poured it on the streets but not even a single drop was given to Polson. Finally the BMS realized the strength of the union and kneeled to their demands. For Tribhuvandas Patel this was morale boosting incident as he travelled mile after mile, village after village trying to convince the famers to form the cooperative society. Finally in December 1946, Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited (KDCMPUL) was registered. By procuring the old dairy of World War I from the government they began their process.
It was Friday, 13 May, 1949 when Dr. Verghese Kurien first arrived at Anand to serve his bond in return of the scholarship he received from the government. Although he had no plans of working in the village but soon he started noticing the movement of the farmers in the village and admired the qualities of their leader, Tribhuvandas Patel. He started giving ideas to the cooperative, shared his views on how to go ahead and advised them in the selection of machinery for manufacturing milk. Tribhuvandas Patel recognized the potential of Dr. Verghese Kurien and just on the day when Dr. Verghese Kurien resigned from his job and packed his bags to leave, Tribhuvandas asked him to help him in setting the new dairy in the village, since no one in the village was able to run the new machinery. Dr. Kurien agreed and stayed back to help them.
Although, Kurien stopped for a few days but looking at the struggle of the farmers he stayed back. He worked for the farmers in creating a better life for them by taking the cooperative movement ahead. He started working day and night for the dairy along with Tribhuvandas and hundreds of farmers. On the advice of Dr. Kurien, Tribhuvandas left the old machinery of manufacturing milk and collected money from the cooperative and bought new machinery from Larsen and Toubro in 1951. Dr. Kurien joined the cooperative as General Manager in 1950. With the new machinery in place, the procurement capacity of the cooperative rose from 200 litres of milk in 1948 to 20,000 litres in 1952. Slowly and gradually the name of Kaira reached till Delhi and the Anand model of cooperative started growing.
After returning from New Zealand, Dr. Kurien started his experiment of obtaining milk powder from buffalo milk. Through a series of experiments under the guidance of Dalaya and other cooperative members, Dr. Kurien became successful in making milk powder from buffalo milk and planned to build a plant where they could manufacture the buffalo milk powder.
On November 15, 1954, the first president of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad laid the foundation for the world’s first dairy to manufacture milk powder from buffalo milkat Anand . Dr. Kurien was confident that the plant could be erected in a period of one year and when Maniben asked him who he wants to inaugurate the plant, he said Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. When contacted, Pandit Nehru gracefully accepted the invitation and informed that he would inaugurate the plant on October 31, 1955, the birth anniversary of Sarder Vallabhbhai Patel, which gave them exactly 11 months to build the plant. The work started and experts from foreign countries were called to erect the plant and finally on the day of the inauguration all the preparations were done.
Pandit Nehru inaugurated the plant and gave an inspiring speech which boosted the morale of the cooperative. This is how the world’s first buffalo milk powder manufacturing plant came to life.
With the increasing production capacity of the plant and the progressive nature of the cooperative, it was time to take the competition under consideration and there was a need to understand the finer points of marketing Kaira Cooperative’s products. At a brainstorming session to come up with a good name for the products, a chemist at the laboratory suggested the name “Amul”. It comes from a Sanskrit word “Amoolya” which means priceless. Also it stood as an acronym for Anand Milk Union Limited. Advertising and Sales Promotion (ASP) did a fine job by crafting the Amul polka dotted girl and the best baseline a brand has ever had “Utterly Butterly Delicious”. the credit for the work goes to Eustace Fernandez, Slyvester Da cunha and his team.
The name was registered in the year 1957 and till today it is the most recalled household name.
It was also a special year for Dr. Kurien as her daughter Nirmala was born in 1957.
In 1962, the clouds of war against China darkened the nation. The Prime Minister’s office called the Amul cooperative to help the government as the army needed milk powder during the war; the requirement was 2750 tons within six months. Although that was outside the reach of the Amul cooperative but in collaboration with the Rajkot dairy they fulfilled the demand of the government by completely seizing the consumer market. The integrity of the cooperative and its leaders was such that when asked what they want in return of this favour, they said “nothing” and proved that in real sense it is serving the nation. Minoo Polson (son of Pestonjee Edulji) tried to increase the prices of its butter and take undue advantage of the scenario. When it came to the notice of Amul cooperative, they froze the manufacturing of Polson with the help of the government.
On the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri , who had heard a lot about the development process going in Anand, he called the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Balwantrai Mehta and made an unusual request. He mentioned that he would like to visit Anand but a day earlier and spend a night at a small farmer’s house with no police protection where he can move freely and talk with the villagers. His main objective was to understand the life of the farmer and the way they perform functions at the cooperative. Balwantrai Mehta immediately conveyed the message to Dr. Kurien and raised the security issues related to the Prime Minister’s request. But, like always Dr. Kurien found a way out and planned to take Shastriji secretly to a village 10 kms away from Anand called “Ajarpura” where he spent a night at a farmer’s house named Ramanbhai. The security cars were taken straight to Anand.
During his night stay in Ajarpura the Prime Minister moved freely in the village and asked several questions to the villagers regarding their life, Amul and how the cooperative brought prosperity to their life. When the next day he arrived at Anand, he was most attentive to understand the working of the cooperative and applauded the work of the cooperative by giving an inspiring speech.
The Prime Minister stayed at Dr. Kurien’s home and in the evening had a detailed conversation where he mentioned his experience of having spent a night at a village and talking to the farmers. He said that he thought something special about Anand but he found nothing special. He added that the soil of Anand is not as good as the Indo-Gangetic plains, the climate is cold in winter and very hot in summer, rainfall is more or less similar to other places. He remarked that he expected greenery but it was all dusty and brown and the buffalos give less milk than the one in his home state of Uttar Pradesh and lastly the farmers here are good people but less hard working than the ones of Punjab. He was curious that what has then made this cooperative as the Centre of attraction of the world? Dr. Kurien agreed to all the observations of the Prime Minister but he mentioned one very important thing that it is the farmer’s cooperative union, they are the owners of the dairy and he was just an employee of the farmer. Being a dairy which is owned by the farmers gives them the will power and the energy to face every challenge and overcome it.
The Prime Minister was convinced by his explanation asked him to replicate the Anand model in other parts of the country, which made Dr. Kurien imagine about the social and economic prosperity they could bring about if the model is replicated. He knew that it is going to be a tedious task but it was not impossible as the man with the stature and class of Dr. Kurien will always grow strong with the challenge. He started thinking and planning how this big dream can be brought to life and be replicated throughout the country.
The year of 1965 was fairly momentous for the cooperative society and also for Dr. Kurien. Michigan State University conferred an honorary degree of "Doctor of Science" thereby promoting him from Mr. Kurien to "Dr. Kurien".
In September 1965, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. With this the dream of replicating the Amul model throughout the country and bringing it to reality became stronger.
Dr. Kurien started thinking on the plan and he worked in coordination with Micheal Hales who was Food and Agriculture expert and a Harvard trained visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and H.M Dalaya. Michael Hales noted down all the points to be taken into consideration to replicate the plan and helped the cooperative to draft their plan to be presented to the government seeking their support for the programme. The amount that was required for replicating the Anand Model all over the country was over 650 crore rupees as estimated by the cooperative team. When the plan was presented to the state government and the other authorities, it was rejected as the government had the control over the dairy industry in India and they never wished to give that power to the villagers. It also led to a lot of corruption and soon the cooperative realized that they need to do something different. It was very easy to drop the plan but the conviction of the leader and the cooperative was not going to shy away from the challenge.
There was a surplus production of milk in the European countries. So much so, that they had no clue what to do with the surplus milk. At that time, the Home Secretary, L.P Singh recommended Dr. Kurien to present their proposal to these European countries at the event, which happened in Rome called as the World Food Programme (WFP). Dr. Kurien realized that this opportunity will never come again as these nations will never commit this mistake again of over producing. Dr. Kurien visited Rome in October 1968 to present NDDB's project proposal to a twenty four nation executive committee of the WFP. The Agriculture Secretary of the Government of India at that time was B.R Patel who introduced Dr. Kurien to the WFP committee to present India's point of view. Dr. Kurien was waiting for this opportunity and was all set to go. He started by elaborating on the importance of milk in India. With a huge population there is a big space for dairy development in India and his intention was to replicate the Anand model in various parts of the country. He simply explained how he intended to use the donated milk to sell at a regular price in India in order to capture the markets of Delhi, Bangalore and other metros and milk rich cities and then generate the money out of it to fund the Operation Flood programme where his major goal was to make India a self-sufficient country in milk and milk products. He also added that if a country donates milk worth $100 million then it can expect 10% return on investment hence the donation is in fact an investment. He continued that he is not asking for such donations to sell them at a lower rate and make money out of it as many countries do it but to use it to raise money for Operation Flood to make India self-sufficient.
The elaborate and passionate presentation was liked and more importantly very well received by the committee. Hence in March 1970, the proposal to award India the food aid donation was signed between the Government of India and the WFP.
The cooperative won the major battle here which kick started the Operation Flood.
In a nutshell the approach was very simple. The first step was that the donated milk products would be reconstituted to provide the Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras liquid schemes with enough milk to obtain a commanding share of the markets. Next, the funds realized from this reconstitution and sale of donated products were used to resettle city-kept cattle and help them to breed and to increase organized milk production, its procurement and processing. Finally this entire operation would be directed towards stabilizing the position of major liquid milk schemes in their markets.
The second phase of the operation flood, which lasted from 1981 to 1985, was implemented with the seed capital raised from the sale of European Economic Committee's (EEC) gifts as well as a World Bank loan of Rs 200 crore. With this phase, the number of milk sheds increased the outlets for milk produced. By the end of this phase more than 43,000 village cooperatives covering 4.25 million milk producers were established.
The third phase of the operation added 30,000 new dairy cooperatives to the 42,000 existing societies. Member education was intensified, and significantly, the number of women members and women's Dairy cooperative societies increased considerably. This phase focused on assisting unions to expand and strengthen their procurement and marketing infrastructure to manage the increasing volumes of milk (by 1989 the number of milk sheds had grown to 173). Veterinary healthcare services, feed and artificial insemination services for cooperative members were extended. During this decade the increased emphasis was on research and development on animal health and animal nutrition.