Tribute to a movement called Amul and the Man behind it

Every morning

17 lac women

across 9,000 villages

bringing in milk

worth Rs. 4 crores

are now celebrating

their economic independence

thanks to

the co-operative movement

called

Amul.

 

If you haven’t seen it already, check out this touching video on YouTube

Until a few years ago, my knowledge about Amul was restricted to the double toned milk pouches that have entered our household every morning from time immemorial and the ads featuring the Amul Girl who my generation grew up with. By the way, she turned 50 this year and probably for the first time in 5 decades she wept when Dr. Kurien passed away in September this year.

Anyway, coming back to the point, by a sheer stroke of luck I got involved in a restructuring exercise for a public sector dairy 3-4 years back. The bookworm in me raised its head and prompted me to read anything and everything that I could lay my hands on. Much of the literature that I came across had references to Dr. Kurien and Amul and my admiration for the man and the organization he so lovingly nurtured grew by leaps and bounds.

Through this post, I have attempted to document some of the things that brought out a ‘wow’ from me. The source for my somewhat random research has been articles published both online and in the print medium; the Chairman’s Speeches available on the Amul website and focused publications on the Dairy industry (which I had access to when we did the consulting project and the bits & pieces that I still remember from those publications).

But before I start, here are some stats: 

  • The first Dairy Co-operative Union was formed in Gujarat in 1942. Membership comprised two village co-operatives
  • Amul (Anand Milk Producers Union Limited) came into being in 1946 through the efforts of Mr. Tribhuvan Das Patel
  • Dr. Kurien was invited to spearhead the initiatives of the co-operative in 1949 as he was about to leave Anand after serving his bond
  • He stayed on….and it was all magic from then on……Operation Flood was launched in 1971…..The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) followed the Amul model across the country….AND
  • India’s milk production went up from a paltry 20 million metric tonnes (MMT) in 1960 to 122 MMT in 2011 (got the figures here)

Now let’s come to the ‘wow’ facts:

As mentioned earlier in the post, Dr. Kurien, popularly known as the ‘Milkman of India’ and the ‘Father of the White Revolution’ didn’t land in Anand by choice. And after reaching Anand he found it difficult to find a place to stay!The fact that he was a bachelor and was not a local did not help him in his search for rented accommodation. However, unlike us, mere mortals, he did not give up and decided to stay in the garage of the dairy plant! He blended with the community that in some ways represented his modest living conditions. Later in his life the great man stated “It is here that I found myself, and I am glad that I stayed here.” In an interview with (Roger, 2007) he further stated “I could have gotten a high paying salary in a city. But I could not have received the warmth, affection, and the love of the people that I worked with, and people for whom I worked in those environments.” Some food for thought for new age educated Indians like me, I suppose?

The impact that the Amul movement has had on the society (i.e. on the people from the villages which participated in the novel programme) is mindboggling. Here are some examples which we can hopefully replicate across the country in different facets of life:

  • People stand in a disciplined queue to deliver their milk every morning
  • No one seem to bother if they are required to stand behind someone who is not from their caste in the queue
  • And most importantly, the opportunity that has been provided to women to contribute and have a voice in their household economy. No wonder the beautiful video (link provided earlier in the post) and the movie ‘Manthan’ made by Shyam Benegal is dominated by women characters
    • Although I have not come across direct references between the movement and knowledge sharing during my random research, I cannot but stop and wonder what access to knowledge can do to uplift the quality of lives. I am strong believer that along with economic freedom, the Amul movement has provided women and for that matter everyone who participated in the programme access to knowledge which in turn has helped them to make better decisions

Dr. Kurien and Amul have taught us a lesson on the current buzz word ‘Innovation’. Many of the Amul products are made from buffalo milk (a first in our country). Despite the negative vibes, Amul has proved that powder milk can be made from buffalo milk. And millions of dairy farmers now thank the great man and this great movement for sharing the secret that rearing buffalos for milk production is more profitable than rearing cows. You may want to read an interesting article entitled ‘Comparative Economics of Buffalo and Cow Milk Production in Karnal District of Haryana’ (click here for the link). The article, though a bit dated is still relevant in the current context to the best of my knowledge.

One of the biggest contributions of Dr. Kurien (for which he will be remembered forever) is the Operation Flood project. Much has been written about this project and being a novice in the field, I would not add my two penny’s worth of insights. However, from a Knowledge Management perspective, I think this is a classical case of large scale collaboration and knowledge sharing. I think every single Knowledge Management professional, at least those based in India should learn more about this project and more specifically the model that was replicated across thousands of cooperatives and millions of milk producers spreading the length and breadth of the country. In a sense, it teaches us that Knowledge can be shared even when we do not call the process ‘Knowledge Management’ and even when we refrain from using our much loved jargons.

I would like to end this post with an excerpt from Dr. Kurien’s speech made in the 30th Annual General Body Meeting of Amul. The full speech is available here.

 “Your Federation has always tried to be a step ahead of the market. It has always been a model to which other cooperatives have looked up as an example and inspiration as well as one from which many have benefited. Those who had scoffed at the idea of cooperation as a business model are today trying to emulate it. Thankfully, we need not be remembered for any of the wrong reasons. Amul has always been and remains a movement that stands for the farmer. We have always espoused the values of social justice, integrity and growth with equity. If Amul deserves to be remembered for anything, first and foremost it is for the difference we have made and are making in the lives of millions of farmers. Against all odds, we have managed to replace a million furrows of hopelessness with at least a faint line of the smile of hope. That line makes a difference. That puts the real shine on the face of India.”

Long live Amul! And THANK YOU Dr. Kurien….You will be a hero for us forever.

Kindly note: I have attempted to provide links to articles that have helped me gather data to write this post. But the document that I have referred the most is ‘From Social Engineering to Community Transformation: Amul, Grameen Bank, and Mondragon as Exemplar Organizations by Dharm P.S. Bhawuk, Susan Mrazek, and Vijayan P. Munusamy. The document is available here.

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