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India, explained

Verghese Kurien, father of India's "white revolution" and Amul dairy brand, dies

Marrying Gandhian values and market savvy, Kurien built a dairy collective into a billion dollar business.
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(SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

Verghese Kurien, 90, the father of India's "white revolution," died Sunday in Gujarat. A champion of the small farmer, Kurien was instrumental in creating a national milk distribution grid in the 1970s that turned India into the world's largest producer of milk and dairy products -- a feat with enormous financial and health implications.

In recent years, Kurien's Amul Dairy brand, a cooperative based in Gujarat, generates annual sales of some $2.5 billion, driven by three million producer members who collect around 9 million liters of milk a day.

Kurien died early Sunday morning, according to the Hindustan Times. He was cremated in a simple ceremony as per his wish, in Anand, Gujarat, where he launched "Operation Flood" in the 1970s.

“His greatest contribution was to give a position of pre-eminence to the farmer,” the paper quoted Manmohan Singh as saying.

"He was the maker of modern Gujarat. He brought out the cooperative energies of Gujarat for common good. Generations of Gujaratis have grown up on the strength of milk security he produced in the state," Ela Bhatt, founder of India's Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA), told Radha Sharma of the Economic Times.

"Verghese Kurien’s success was that he kindled urban interest in a rural story of empowerment and sustenance," Rajesh Pandathil writes for FirstPost.in.

"In his model of business, villagers are the producers and their products, which they own, are sold to the urban, using the tools of a typically urban-centric business."

In creating the Amul brand, he empowered farmers that are generally treated only as suppliers--fighting for contracts with the big companies that can take their products to market. 

Cutting out exploitative middlemen, Kurien's cooperative "established a direct link between milk producers and consumers. Milk producers had the control of procurement, processing and marketing and a professional management was engaged," Pandathil writes.

The model has been replicated by many others--none quite so successfully. But it nevertheless seems that this is an area India needs to explore further: Not fighting against economies of scale, as many of the country's laws to protect "cottage industries" have done, but making economies of scale work for the little guy, too.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/india-kurien-white-revolution-amul