We are living in times where the debate on agrarian distress and stagnant rural incomes has become a perennial feature in the national discourse. According to a Nielsen report, rural India grew at five percent in terms of value, sharply slower than 20 percent reported a year earlier for the quarter ending in September 2019. This is the lowest growth rate reported in the last seven years.
This decline in rural growth is worrying for a country aiming to become a USD 5 trillion economy by 2025, where the majority of its workforce is engaged in agriculture and allied activities and mainly resides in remote rural geographies.
Augmenting rural income through improved and sustainable livelihoods is an urgent need of the hour. Many lessons can be drawn from the exemplary story of India’s White Revolution spearheaded by the Milkman of India, Dr. Verghese Kurien.
In 1950, the farmers of Kaira cooperative employed Dr. Verghese Kurien, a young engineer from the University of Michigan, as a professional manager to run their dairy cooperative enterprise.
Dr Kurien introduced five key changes that transformed the dairy sector paradigm. First, milk being a highly perishable commodity with seasonal supply fluctuations, Dr Kurien created a robust supply chain for milk procurement from villages to customer's doorstep.
Second, he brought in modern technology and production systems at the dairy, most famously the first-ever plant in the world for manufacturing buffalo milk powder.
Thirdly, he introduced innovative marketing, making Amul the most enduring brand in Indian marketing history. Fourthly, he built an ecosystem of organisations to focus on different aspects of the dairy industry such as policy, strategy, innovation, and teaching.
The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India (NCDFI), Vidya Dairy and the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation are an outcome of that effort.
The last and the most important step he introduced was the Billion Litre Idea in 1970 - a strategic vision to scale up the dairy cooperative model pan India. The idea led to the well-known Operation Flood which culminated in India surpassing the US to become the world’s largest milk producer by 1998. Most importantly, livelihoods were created for more than 15 million farmers pan India by replicating the dairy cooperative model through Operation Flood.
A robust supply chain, modern technology & production systems, marketing, organisation building, and a strategic vision transformed the lives of dairy farmers in India.
In other words, it took professional management to bring about a visible socio-economic impact to an underserved segment of India’s economy. Today, about 70 percent of India’s population resides in the rural sector, a sector known for its predominantly agrarian workforce, remote and inaccessible geographies and high incidence of poverty.
Agriculture and allied activities despite employing a majority of Indians, contribute a mere 15 percent to India’s GDP. Another 4 percent of India in urban areas are living below the poverty line. Unlocking the income potential of these underserved segments of our economy to reach our $5-trillion dollar dream requires trained professional managers.
The occasion of National Milk Day celebrated on Dr Kurien’s birth anniversary, is an opportune moment for us to reflect upon Dr Kurien’s life and what takeaways it has for India’s growth story.The author is Director, IRMA - founded by Dr Kurien 40 years ago.