Verghese Kurien

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Verghese Kurien
Verghese kurien.jpg
Born (1921-11-26)26 November 1921
( 'National Milk Day')
Calicut, (Madras Presidency)
(now Kozhikode, Kerala)
Died 9 September 2012(2012-09-09) (aged 90)
Nadiad, Gujarat, India
Nationality Indian
Occupation Co-founder, Amul
Founder NDDB and IRMA
Known for White revolution in India[1]
Awards World Food Prize (1989)
Order of Agricultural Merit (1997)
Padma Vibhushan (1999)
Padma Bhushan (1966)
Padma Shri (1965)
Ramon Magsaysay Award (1963)

Verghese Kurien (26 November 1921 – 9 September 2012) known as the Father of the White Revolution in India[2] was a social entrepreneur whose "billion-litre idea", Operation Flood - the world's largest agricultural dairy development programme,[3][4] made India the world's largest milk producer, surpassing the United States of America by 1998,[5] with about 17 percent of global output in 2010–11, from a milk-deficient nation, which doubled milk available per person within 30 years,[6] and which made dairy farming India's largest self-sustaining industry,[7] with benefits of employment, incomes, credit, nutrition, education, heath, gender parity & empowerment, breaking down caste barriers and grassroots democracy and leadership.[8]

He helped establish the Amul cooperative, today India's largest food brand, where three-fourths of the price paid by the consumer goes into the hand of the producing dairy farmer, the cooperative's owner.[9][10] A key invention at Amul, the production of milk powder from the abundant buffalo-milk, instead of from cow-milk, short in supply in India, enabled it to compete in the market with success.[11][12] He found the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in 1965, to replicate Amul's "Anand pattern" nationwide.[4]

He also made India self-sufficient in edible oils,[13] taking on a powerful, entrenched and violently resistant oil supplying lobby.[14][15] He is regarded as one of the greatest proponents of the cooperative movement in the world, his work having lifted millions out of poverty in India and outside.[16]

Early life and education[edit]

He was born on 26 November 1921 at Calicut, Madras Presidency (now Kozhikode, Kerala) into a Syrian Christian family.[17][18] He did his schooling at Diamond Jubilee Higher Secondary School in Gobichettipalayam while his father worked as a civil surgeon at the government hospital there.[19][20] He graduated in physics from Loyola College, Madras in 1940 and then got a bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering, Guindy,[21] Madras. After that, he joined the Tata Steel Technical Institute, Jamshedpur from where he graduated in 1946, but soon found himself wanting to get away from the hangers-on and yesmen of his uncle, who was the chief there.[22]

So he applied for a government of India scholarship to the United States and returned with a master's degree in mechanical engineering (metallurgy), (with a minor in nuclear physics) from Michigan State University in 1948.[23][24][25]

Later, he would say, "I was sent to ... study dairy engineering (on the only government scholarship left) ... I cheated a bit though,[22] and studied metallurgical and nuclear engineering, disciplines ... likely to be of far greater use to my soon-to-be Independent country and, quite frankly, to me."[26]

He did however train for dairy technology later on, on a government sponsorship to New Zealand, a bastion of cooperative dairying then, when he had to learn to set up the Amul dairy.[27]


In 1949, Kurien was sent by the government of India to its run-down, experimental creamery at Anand, in Gujarat, and began to work rather half-heartedly to serve out his bond period, against the scholarship given by them.. He had already made up his mind to quit mid-way but was persuaded to stay back by Tribhuvandas Patel who had brought farmers together in Kheda under a cooperative union to sell and process their milk.[28][29] Patel's efforts and the trust placed in him by farmers inspired Kurien to dedicate himself to establishing that cooperative, called Amul.

He and his mentor Tribhuvandas Patel were backed by a few political leaders and bureaucrats who saw merit in their pioneering cooperative model of farmers willing to associate together for their produce and willing to be led by professionals even whilst being owners of the cooperative.Then prime minister, Nehru visited Anand to inaugurate Amul's plant and embraced Kurien for his groundbreaking work.[30] His colleague and dairy engineer H. M. Dalaya had invented the process of making skim milk powder and condensed milk from buffalo milk, instead of from cow milk, thought impossible by dairy experts around the world.[11][12] In India, buffalo milk was plentiful while, cow milk was in short supply, unlike Europe where it was abundant. This was the reason Amul would compete successfully and well against Nestle, the leading competitor, which used cow milk to make them. Later research by Dr. G. H. Wilster led to cheese production from buffalo milk at Amul.[31] Kurien took on established competitors, viz. Aarey dairy of the Bombay Milk Scheme and Polson Dairy for the Bombay market.[27]

Amul's cooperative dairying venture became a success and in 1965, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri tasked Kurien to replicate its pattern nationwide. Kurien was mindful of meddling by the political class and bureaucrats sitting in the capital cities, letting it be known upfront.[32] And so, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was found under Kurien on his condition that it be set up closer to farmers at Anand.[33] Shastri also took his help to set right the government's mismanaged Delhi Milk Scheme. Later, he prevailed on prime ministers, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi on setting up cooperatives & plants, and managing operations to intervene in fruits & vegetables and oilseeds & edible oils markets during their tenures, respectively,[13] like he had done for milk during Operation Flood. Brands resulting from these - Dhara (Operation Golden Flow for cooking oils), Mother Dairy (Operation Flood) and Safal (for vegetables) are household names today.

He was bold in dealing with donors like the UNICEF for aid,[34] and confronted the New Zealand government and a powerful 'dumping' lobby in countries which wanted to 'convert food aid into trade' as that would have harmed his efforts of setting up dairies using the proceeds from the sale of that aid in the Indian markets.[35][36][37]

The Amul dairy's 'Anand pattern' was replicated in Gujarat's districts around Anand and he set all of them under Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF) in 1973 to sell their combined produce under a single Amul brand.

In 1979, he founded the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) to groom managers for the cooperatives. He played a key role in setting up similar cooperatives across India and outside. In 1979, Premier Alexei Kosygin invited Kurien to the Soviet Union for advice on the cooperatives there. In 1982, Pakistan invited him to set up dairy cooperatives. Around 1989, China implemented its own Operation-Flood like programme with the help of Kurien and the World Food Programme.

In the 1990s he lobbied and fought hard to keep multinational companies from entering the dairy business even as the country opened up all its other markets to them following globalisation, after decades of protection.[38]

In 1998, he prevailed upon then prime minister Vajpayee to appoint Dr. Amrita Patel his successor at NDDB, who he had groomed under him consciously to keep government bureaucrats away from the post, to protect NDDB's independence from the government.[39] Later, he had differences with her on the direction cooperative dairying was taking in the country.

He quit the post of GCMMF chairman in 2006 following disagreement with the management.[40][41]

In Popular culture[edit]

Film-maker Shyam Benegal wanted to make Manthan (the churning of the 'milk ocean'), a story based on Amul, but lacked funds. Kurien got his half a million member-farmers to contribute a token two rupees each for the making of the movie. It hit a chord with the audience when it was released in Gujarat in 1976. Truckloads of farmers came to see "their film", making it a success at the box office, impressing distributors to release it before audiences, nationwide. It was critically acclaimed and went on to win national awards the following year and was later shown on television.

The movie's success led Kurien to another idea. Like shown in the film, a vet, a milk technician and a fodder specialist who could explain the value of cross-breeding of milch cattle would tour other parts of the country along with the film's prints, to woo farmers there to create cooperatives of their own. UNDP would use the movie to start similar cooperatives in Latin America.[42][43] and show it in Africa.[44]

Kurien's support was crucial in making the 'Amul girl' advertising-with-a-larger-public-message campaign, one of the longest running for decades now.[45][46]

In 2013, Amar Chitra Katha brought out a comic book Verghese Kurien: The Man with the Billion Litre idea.[47][48]

Personal life[edit]

Kurien died after a brief spell of illness aged 90 on 9 September 2012 at Nadiad,[49][50] near Anand,[51] followed by his wife a few months later in Mumbai. A daughter and a grandson survive them.[23][48]

Kurien, who spent most of his life in Gujarat never spoke the language of the state despite understanding it, nor was he used to drinking milk.[52]

Awards and honours[edit]

People nationwide honour Kurien's birthday, 26 November as 'National Milk Day'[53][54][55][56]

Year Name of Award or Honor Awarding Organization
1999 Padma Vibhushan[57] Government of India
1997 Order of Agricultural Merit  France Ministère de l'Agriculture[58]
1993 International Person of the Year World Dairy Expo
1991 Distinguished Alumni Michigan State University
1989 World Food Prize World Food Prize Foundation
1986 Wateler Peace Prize[58] Carnegie Foundation
1986 Krishi Ratna Government of India
1966 Padma Bhushan[57] Government of India
1965 Padma Shri[57] Government of India
1963 Ramon Magsaysay Award Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

Kurien has also received 15 honorary doctorate degrees from universities in India and around the world.[59][60] The Institute of Rural Management, Anand, has invited eminent persons to deliver their Dr. Verghese Kurien Memorial Lecture, every year.[61][62][63][64][65][66][67] Michigan State University International Studies and Programs, along with the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, dedicated a bust of Kurien that is on display in the International Center lobby.[68][69]


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  60. ^ Verghese Kurien. "Dr. Verghese Kurien: Honorary Degrees". Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  61. ^ IRMA. "Institute of Rural management Anand: Dr. Verghese Kurien Memorial Lecture". 
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  68. ^
  69. ^ "Michigan State University honours Verghese Kurien". The Hindu. July 8, 2016. Retrieved September 90, 2016. The Michigan State University (MSU) in the U.S. has honoured its Indian alumni late Verghese Kurien, called as the father of India’s White Revolution, by installing his bust at its campus.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

Further reading[edit]

  • Kotler, Neil G. (1990). Sharing Innovation: Global Perspectives on Food, Agriculture, and Rural Development. Int. Rice Res. Inst. ISBN 9789711042219. 
  • Kachru, Upendra (2011). India, Land of a Billion Entrepreneurs. Pearson Education India. ISBN 9788131758618. 

Literary work[edit]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "I too had a dream - on".