Kurien believed the cooperative model was the only way to save millions of his countrymen from poverty and hardship: “An independent farmer has no bargaining power; he has to sell milk at whatever price he is given. But the dairy should belong to him. The cooperative model gives him command over the procurement, processing, and marketing of his product.”
Born in 1912, Kurien received a government scholarship to study dairy engineering in the US in the early 1940s. When he returned to India, the government placed him in the Anand dairy where he came to understand the need for farmers to pool their efforts and resources.
“Milk is the only agricultural commodity that needs to be marketed thrice a day, every day of the year, and that within a few hours of production otherwise it becomes a total loss,” he told ibnlivein.com. “The farmers who produce the milk have no bargaining strength to hold it back for a better price so they have to gain power over the production and marketing if they are to get the maximum benefit.”
In 1946, Kurien founded the Amul brand. Taking a firm stand against local governmental bureaucracy and multinational corporate pressure, he embarked on establishing over thirty institutions to organise the farmers into cooperatives. “Every village has a milk society, which collects the milk,” he told tehelka.com. “A number of societies together in a district form a union that has a processing plant; the unions come together to form a federation, which is the marketing agency.”
In the following years he set up Kaira Can Company to manage the critical supply chain and partnered with Tetra Pak to create a packaging company for producing long-life milk. Another major innovation was his development of local technologies for making milk powder, cheese, and condensed milk from India’s abundant buffalo milk rather than the less-common cow’s milk.
With the cooperative structure in place, Kurien focused on building a strong brand. “It is obvious that the key to increase production is marketing,” he said. “If Amul has become a successful brand – if, in the trade lingo, it enjoys brand equity – it is because we have honoured our contract with consumers. What goes into the ‘contract’ that is a brand name? First is quality. No brand survives long if its quality does not equal or exceed what the buyer expects. In the case of a food product, it must taste good, and it must be good. There simply must be no compromise; that’s the essence of the contract.”
Kurien’s vision of a country owned and managed by the people is a compelling one. “I am not an employee of the government, I am an employee of the farmers,” he said. “Seventy-three percent of our population is farmers and if India is to progress, its farmers have to progress. Everything I have done has been directed towards that goal.”
Kurien died in September 2012, aged ninety, but his legacy lives on in an India transformed for ever by his vision and commitment and unwavering hard work.
For more information, go to www.amul.com