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Verghese Kurien

Verghese Kurien
Kurien in 2009
Born(1921-11-26)26 November 1921
Died9 September 2012(2012-09-09) (aged 90)
Nadiad, Gujarat, India
Alma mater
Occupation(s)dairy engineer
social entrepreneur
Known forWhite Revolution in India
AwardsRamon Magsaysay Award (1964)
Padma Shri (1965)
Padma Bhushan (1966)
World Food Prize (1989)
Order of Agricultural Merit (1997)
Padma Vibhushan (1999)

Verghese Kurien (26 November 1921 – 9 September 2012) was an Indian dairy engineer and social entrepreneur who led initiatives that contributed to the extensive increase in milk production termed the White Revolution.

Kurien graduated in physics from University of Madras in 1940 and received his masters in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University in 1947. In 1949, Kurien was sent by the Government of India to run its experimental creamery at Anand where he set up the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union Limited in 1950 which later became Amul. Amul organised dairy farmers in the villages as a part of a cooperative and linked them to consumers directly. The dairy cooperative was successful in increasing milk production as consumers paid in cash to dairy farmers who controlled the marketing, procurement, and processing of milk and milk products as the owners of the cooperative.

In 1965, National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was established with Kurien as the head to replicate the Anand co-operative scheme nationwide. In 1979, he founded the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) to groom managers for the cooperatives. Kurien helped set up similar cooperatives across India which made dairy farming one of the largest self-sustaining industries and employment generators in rural areas. This led to a multi-fold increased milk output over the next few decades which helped India become the world's largest milk producer in 1998. For his contributions in increasing the dairy output, Kurian is known as the "Father of the White Revolution" in India. The co-operative model was later applied successfully to other industries such as edible oils.

He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1964 and World Food Prize in 1989. In 1999, he received Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian honour. He was conferred the Order of Agricultural Merit by the French Government in 1997.

Early life and education

Kurien was born on 26 November 1921 in Calicut, Madras Presidency, British India (now Kozhikode, Kerala, India) to P. K. Kurien in a Malayali Anglican Christian family.[1] His father was a government civil surgeon.[2] Kurien did his schooling at Diamond Jubilee Higher Secondary School, Gobichettipalayam, Tamil Nadu when his father worked at the government hospital there.[3] He graduated in physics from Loyola College affiliated to University of Madras in 1940 and received bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering, Guindy in 1943.[4][5]

His father died when he was 22 years old and he moved under the tutelage of his maternal grand-uncle Cherian Matthai in Trichur.[2] He wanted to join the Indian army as an engineer but joined Tata Steel Technical Institute, in Jamshedpur as per the wishes of his mother from where he graduated in 1946.[4][6]

Kurien applied for a scholarship provided by the Government of India and chose to study dairy engineering. He was sent to the Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry in Bangalore where he spent nine months before being sent to United States on a government scholarship.[4] He graduated with a master's degree in mechanical engineering from University of Michigan in 1948.[7][8][9] Kurien had stated that he studied metallurgical and nuclear engineering, disciplines likely to be of far greater use to the soon-to-be independent India and to himself though he was sent on the only government scholarship left in dairy engineering.[10] He went to Australia later when he learnt dairying which would help him set up the Amul dairy later.[11]


Early years

In 1949, Kurien was sent by the government of India to its experimental creamery at Anand in Bombay province (current Gujarat) on a five year term as an officer in the dairy division.[4] He spent the weekends in Bombay where he volunteered to help Tribhuvandas Patel with modifying the dairy equipments and processing of milk procured from local farmers.[12] Earlier in 1946, Patel had setup a cooperative established in 1946 at Kaira as a response to the exploitation of small dairy farmers by traders and agents who set arbitrary milk prices on behalf of Polson which had an effective monopoly in milk collection from Kaira.[13] Kurien wanted to quit the government job and leave Anand but was persuaded by Patel to stay with him and help with his dairy cooperative.[14][15]

Developing Amul

Kurien with Tribhuvandas Patel and H. M. Dalaya at Anand in 1970

Kurien developed the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union Limited (KDCMPUL) further which later became known as Amul.[16] Milk collection was decentralised and was directly procured from farmers at villages as a part of cooperatives.[17] Kurien and Patel were supported by then Home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who sent Morarji Desai to help organise the farmers.[18] Kurien and Tribhuvandas Patel worked on the belief that economic self-interest of all sections of the village-society would make them align together to grow their cooperative and remove caste or class conflicts.[19] The cooperative dairying venture became popular and started attracting interest nationally.[20][21]

In 1956, Kurien visited Nestle in Switzerland at the invitation of the commerce and industries minister to ask them to reduce imports to India and involve more Indians in processing local milk but was met with a refusal stating that condensed milk production could not be left to the natives.[22] On returning, he increased the production of condensed milk at Amul, the import of which was banned by Government of India two years later. H. M. Dalaya, who Kurien persuaded to stay back at Anand after a visit from United States helped develop a process of making skim milk powder and condensed milk from buffalo milk instead of from cow milk.[23] In India, buffalo milk was plentiful, while cow milk was in short supply and Amul competed successfully against Nestle and later against Glaxo for baby food.[24]

Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime minister, also cut imports of butter in steps with Kurien promising and delivering an incremental increase of his production to eliminate the dependency on imported butter, especially from New Zealand.[25] During the Sino-Indian War in 1962, production had to be diverted to the Indian armed forces which led Polson to gain market share. Kurien lobbied with the government to freeze Polson's production lines, as part of the war effort.[26] Later research by G. H. Wilster led to cheese production from buffalo milk at Amul.[27]

Nationwide expansion

Kurien with then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1964

Then-Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri visited Anand to inaugurate Amul's cattle feed factory in October 1964 when he also interacted with the farmers about their cooperative. In 1965, Shastri tasked Kurien to replicate the dairy's Anand scheme nationwide, for which the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was founded.[28] The board was led by Kurien on conditions that it be independent of governmental control and that it be set up at Anand, away from the capitals and closer to farmers.[29] Kurien negotiated with donors like the UNICEF for aid to develop the cooperatives and opposed countries which lobbied against him stating that he wanted to "convert aid into trade" contrary to his idea of making India self-sufficient in milk production.[30] He used the proceeds to encourage the movement of high-yield native cattle to urban areas and set up milk sheds and dairy farms nationwide to stabilize the dairy markets of big cities.[31][32] The Anand model was replicated across Gujarat and Kurien brought all of them under the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) in 1973 to sell their products under a single Amul brand on the 25th anniversary of establishment.[33] Other states emulated setting up similar federations based on this scheme. In 1979, he founded the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) to groom managers for the cooperatives.[4]

Consolidation and self-sufficiency

In the 1990s, he lobbied and fought hard to keep multinational companies from entering the dairy business even as the country opened up due to liberalisation in 1991.[34] India became the world's largest milk producer by 1998, surpassing the United States and contributed to about 17 percent of global output in 2010–11.[35] In 1998, he persuaded former then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to appoint Amrita Patel as his successor at NDDB, whom he had groomed under him to protect NDDB's independence from the government.[36] Later, he had differences with her on the policies of Amul as she was focused on production and yield targets with certain functions such as marketing handed over to private and Kurien felt that it would weaken the cooperative institutions of the country.[37] He resigned from the position of chairman of GCMMF in 2006 after limited support from the governing board.[38][39]

Other work

Kurien replicated the setting up on co-operatives in other markets like fruits and vegetables, oilseeds and edible oil markets.[40][41][42] In 1979, then Premier of Soviet Union Alexei Kosygin invited Kurien to the Soviet Union for advice on its cooperatives. In 1982, Government of Pakistan invited him to set up dairy cooperatives, where he led a World Bank mission. In 1989, China implemented a similar programme with the help of Kurien and the World Food Programme. In 1997, he helped set up dairy cooperatives in Sri Lanka in collaboration with NDDB. He also served as the chairman of Tribhuvandas Foundation, a NGO which worked on women and child health in Kheda district.[43]


Kurien died from an illness at the age of 90 on 9 September 2012 at Nadiad near Anand.[44][45][46] He had a wife Molly and a daughter, Nirmala.[7][47] Kurien was brought up as a Christian before becoming an atheist.[48][49]

Awards and honours

Year Award or honor Awarding organization
1963 Ramon Magsaysay Award[50] Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
1965 Padma Shri[51] Government of India
1966 Padma Bhushan[52] Government of India
1986 Krishi Ratna[53] Government of India
1986 Wateler Peace Prize[54] Carnegie Foundation
1989 World Food Prize[54] World Food Prize Foundation
1993 International Person of the Year[55] World Dairy Expo
1997 Order of Agricultural Merit[54] Ministry of Agriculture, France
1999 Padma Vibhushan[56] Government of India
2000 Regional Award[54] Asian Productivity Organization

Kurien was bestowed with multiple honorary degrees including degrees by the Michigan State University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.[4] Kurien either headed or was on the boards of several public institutions and received honorary doctorate degrees from universities worldwide.[57][58] Kurien was also awarded the Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award for social bravery.[59]

Books and publications

  • Kurien, Verghese (2005) I Too Had a Dream. APH Publishing Corp. ISBN 978-8-17436-407-4
  • Kurien, Verghese (1997) An Unfinished Dream. Tata-McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07462-214-8
  • Kurien, Verghese (2012) The Man Who Made The Elephant Dance ISBN 978-9-38229-924-0

In popular culture

Kurien's birthday, 26 November is celebrated as National Milk Day in India.[60][61] The model pioneered by Kurien is included in academia and memorial lectures are often held.[62][63]

Filmmaker Shyam Benegal wanted to make Manthan, a film story based on Amul but had no financial backing. The movie was later made from financial contribution made from member-farmers of co-operatives who contributed two rupees each and was released in 1976.[4][64] A veterinarian, a milk technician, and a fodder specialist toured the country along with the screening of the film to persuade farmers to form cooperatives of their own with UNDP using the movie to start similar cooperatives in Latin America.[65] and screened it in Africa.[66]

Kurien's supported the "Amul girl" advertisement campaign which is one of the longest running campaigns in India and Surabhi, a television series on Indian culture.[67][68][69]

In 2013, Amar Chitra Katha published the comic book Verghese Kurien: The Man with the Billion Litre idea.[4][70][47]


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Further reading

  • Kotler, Neil G. (1990). Sharing Innovation: Global Perspectives on Food, Agriculture, and Rural Development. Int. Rice Res. Inst. ISBN 978-9-71104-221-9.
  • Kachru, Upendra (2011). India, Land of a Billion Entrepreneurs. Pearson Education India. ISBN 978-8-13175-861-8.
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