50 yrs of a milk revolution that changed Indian cooperative enterprises forever | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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50 yrs of a milk revolution that changed Indian cooperative enterprises forever

By, Ahmedabad
Feb 21, 2024 12:15 PM IST

Amul, celebrating 50 years, empowers 3.6M farmers in a transformative dairy legacy

Nilesh Patel, a 35-year-old farmer, stops for a moment to check his phone after selling three cans of milk at the collection centre of Bedwa Milk Producers’ Co-operative Society Ltd in Bedwa village, home to around 6,700 people. He receives a text message confirming that he sold 8.19 litres of milk with a fat content of 9.4% and earned 662.98, which was deposited into his account instantly.

The federation runs 98 dairy plants across India. (HT Photo)
The federation runs 98 dairy plants across India. (HT Photo)

“It is our third generation selling milk to the cooperative,” Patel said, recollecting that he received a bonus of 75,000 last year for selling milk to the cooperative. Patel, who lives in the village with his family of seven, tends to 14 buffaloes and manages a farm spanning about 3 bigahs (around 2 acres). He earns about 50,000 a month after deducting expenses for cattle feed.

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Patel is among the 1,863 member-producers of the village dairy co-operative society, a group that includes 511 landless farmers. This society supplies milk to the district milk union, the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers Union headquartered in Anand, less than 15km from Bedwa village, from where Gujarat milk cooperatives started before Independence.

A Tradition Of Cooperation

Patel’s story is not confined to his village alone. He is part of a grand narrative, encompassing 3.6 million farmer-members spread across 18,600 village dairy cooperative societies in Gujarat. This expansive network collaborates under the umbrella of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) having 18 district cooperative milk producer unions under its banner, which is celebrating the golden jubilee of its establishment this week. GCMMF manages 30 million litres of milk daily, clocking an annual turnover of 80,000 crore in 2023-24.

The milk, including Patel’s contribution, undergoes processing and emerges as various products branded Amul — India’s largest FMCG brand and a global dairy powerhouse. On February 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Union home minister Amit Shah and Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel will attend an event at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad where about 125,000 milk producers from the state will gather to celebrate 50 years of GCMMF.

“Amul” is derived from the Sanskrit word “amulya” which means “priceless”.

“Throughout my career, I can’t recall a single day when milk supply was halted. Even during the challenges of Covid, we maintained social distancing and took precautions, ensuring uninterrupted delivery. It was crucial. Without it, children would go hungry. Thankfully, our village remained untouched by the virus. Despite my children settling abroad, I chose to stay here, part of this vital community service, driving positive change where it’s needed most,” says Dinesh Patel, secretary of Bedwa Milk Producers’ Co-operative Society, with over 23 years of service.

Revolutionising Dairy: The Amul Legacy

The birth of the Amul model of rural cooperatives dates to 1946 when milk became a symbol of protest. Farmers in Kaira district faced exploitation in the milk marketing system while contractors profited at the expense of producers, who were forced to sell at low prices. The situation worsened with the Bombay Milk Scheme in 1945 entering into an agreement with Polson Dairy, which further marginalised the farmers.

Responding to these grievances, Sardar Patel advocated for the formation of cooperative societies to empower farmers in marketing their milk. Encouraged by his advice, the farmers organised themselves and embarked on a historic milk strike in January 1946. Led by Morarji Desai, they demanded the establishment of cooperative societies in each village to collect milk directly, bypassing contractors.

“At this stage the milk commissioner — an Englishman — and his deputy, a famous dairyman of India, Dara Khurody (who later built Bombay’s Aarey Milk Colony), decided to visit Anand. They saw that the farmers were adamant, their spirit very strong and that their strike was unlikely to end. Khurody advised the commissioner to concede to their demands.

“Look at their leader Tribhuvandas Patel,” he said.

“He wears a Gandhi topi, he cannot speak English. How is he going to handle the milk business? This is not New Zealand or Denmark. This is India. Milk business is a technical thing. Do you really think the cooperatives in Anand can succeed? Concede to their demands; they are only doomed to failure,” Khurody added, according to the autobiography of Verghese Kurien, founder of GCMMF and often hailed as the brain behind the development and success of Amul.

The British accepted the demand and Patel organised villagers to set up Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Ltd in 1946, the first milk cooperative in Gujarat. The Union began pasteurising milk in June 1948, for the Bombay Milk Scheme — just a handful of farmers in two village cooperative societies producing about 250 litres a day.

In 1965, during a visit to Anand, then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was deeply impressed by Amul’s success. Spending a night with Kaira’s farmers, he saw firsthand the impact of their cooperative efforts. This encounter fuelled Shastri’s determination to replicate the Amul model nationwide.

He entrusted Kurien, then the general manager of Amul, with this task. This set the stage for the establishment of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and the launch of Operation Flood or the White Revolution, marking the beginning of a transformative era in India’s dairy sector.

As milk cooperatives expanded in Gujarat with several districts adopting the Kaira model, the Gujarat government in 1973 decided to form the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd with an aim to push Amul as Gujarat’s milk brand nationally and internationally.

Amul is a three-tier structure with the dairy cooperative societies at the village level federated under a milk union at the district level and a federation of member unions at the state level. A significant feature of the movement Kurien led is that milk is purchased largely from women, empowering them economically and socially. Mehta said GCMMF passes on 80-85% of each consumer rupee back to milk producer-members, thus encouraging them to produce more.

“The leadership at GCMMF navigated the change process by exploring various models, including the American approach, before ultimately embracing Japan’s total quality management (TQM) philosophy. Unlike the American model, which may involve significant organisational restructuring, Japan’s TQM focuses on leveraging participative processes while preserving the fundamental DNA of the organisation,” said Jayen Mehta, MD of GCMMF.

In his memoirs, Kurien highlighted how western interests sought to perpetuate the belief that converting buffalo milk into powder was impossible, aiming to maintain their dominance in the milk powder market. However, with the expertise of his friend HM Dalaya, a skilled dairy engineer, GCMMF successfully transformed buffalo milk into powder, condensed milk, and later, cheese, enabling India to compete against global giants such as Nestle. This breakthrough not only addressed the challenge of milk wastage during flush seasons but also bolstered India’s self-sufficiency in dairy production.

GCMMF has 18 board members who represent milk unions in the state. Each district dairy union chief, who is also a board member, gets one regular vote and extra votes based on their dairy’s business with the federation. Over time, there has been a shift in board affiliation from the Congress to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and now all district dairy union chiefs are affiliated with the BJP. Currently, Shamal Patel, chairman of the Sabarkantha District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Ltd (Sabar dairy), serves as chairman of the GCMMF.

The federation runs 98 dairy plants located across India with a daily milk handling capacity of 50 million litres equipped with modern facilities to process, pack and store the milk and milk products. Besides Amul, GCMMF also markets some of its products under the brand name of Sagar.

The Next Frontier

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her interim budget speech earlier this month said that despite becoming the world’s largest producer of milk, India continues to struggle with low productivity of milch animals.

“A comprehensive programme for supporting dairy farmers will be formulated. Efforts are already on to control foot and mouth disease. India is the world’s largest milk producer but with low productivity of milch animals. The programme will be built on the success of existing schemes such as Rashtriya Gokul Mission, National Livestock Mission, and Infrastructure Development Funds for dairy processing and animal husbandry.”

On its part, the GCMMF is investing in new product categories, including organic foods, high protein products, a probiotic range and fresh sweets.

“Currently, we’re making cheese from milk and discarding the protein. But there will come a time when people discard the cheese and opt solely for the protein. We have explored innovative technology to extract whey from milk without the need for powder. Today, with protein is in high demand, we are proud to offer it at an unmatched price point. For example, our 250ml buttermilk provides 15 grams of whey protein at just 25. Additionally, we’re preparing to launch high-protein milk containing 30 grams of protein in 200ml,” said Mehta.

Targeting a turnover of 1 lakh crore in the next two years, Mehta said the GCMMF aims to transform from a diary to a food products organisation.

GCMMF has inspired diverse cooperatives, including ventures like the Charotar Gas Sahakari Mandali, which aims to replace wood with piped natural gas in villages. Modelled after Amul’s successful cooperative model, Charotar Gas is the sole cooperative in the city gas distribution (CGD) business, providing gas supply even to Amul’s factory in Anand and around two dozen villages.

“The Charotar Gas Co-operative, inspired by the successful Amul co-operative model, was established to provide women with affordable and clean cooking fuel. Initially, gas was supplied through pipelines from Dholka, where a producing well was located. Today, our household gas remains 25-30% cheaper than LPG cylinders, and we provide a 15% dividend to stakeholders. Adapting to modern trends, we are transitioning to hydrogen blending and exploring the establishment of EV charging stations at our CNG fuel stations,” said Dharmendra Patel, chairman of Charotar Gas.

In all this, what may not change in Amul though is its timeless advertising campaign, featuring a girl in a polka-dot skirt with witty one-liners created by the legendary Sylvester daCunha.

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