"Farmers Do not commit suicide where they have cooperatives"

Last updated on Jun 23, 2007

Posted on Jun 23, 2007

This is an interesting interview with Dr. Kurien sent by a friend from IRMA.  Despite the fact that I consider him as a megalomaniac, his views (and work) are profound!  I think the dinstinction between SEZ and Cooperatives with respect to farmers suicides makes a lot of sense.  However, it is not enough to just have the cooperative but improve the cooperaives themselves.  Unilever also, btw, started as a cooperative.  I am not sure if it still is or not but it has been highly successful!

HAILED AS the father of the country’s White Revolution, Verghese
Kurien was responsible for setting up the Anand model of cooperative
dairy development. The movement transformed over 2.5 million farmers
into stakeholders in the Amul brand, the country’s largest food
product manufacturers. The former chairman of the now billion-dollar
brand has also served as chairman of the National Dairy Development
Board and the Institute of Rural Management, Anand. The Padma
Vibhushan awardee, who made a controversial exit from the post of
chairman of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation last
year, told PC VINOJ KUMAR that farmers’ cooperatives, not SEZS, are
the way ahead for rural India
Amul is a billion-dollar brand. How do you look at its success?
Well, if you ask Tribhuvandas Patel (the founder-chairman of Amul),
who did all this, he would say Kurien was responsible for Amul’s
success. If you ask me, my answer would be Tribhuvandas. But the truth
is, he could not have done it without me, and I certainly could not
have done it without him. We made a good combination. He was the then
Gujarat State Congress president. He didn’t want to become a minister,
but he said he would decide who should become ministers in Gujarat. He
was a very influential person, but gave me a free hand in running
Amul.
What is wrong with cooperatives in India?
The problem with cooperatives in India is that they don’t have the
independence to decide for themselves what they want to do. Instead,
the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, who is a government officer
and does what the government wants him to do, has the authority. But
in the days when Patel was chairman, no registrar dared to interfere
in the functioning of the organisation. At Amul, I considered myself
as an employee of the farmers. It was entirely a farmers’
organisation. In a cooperative, the members should be vested with
decision-making powers. The government should have nothing to do with
it. Cooperatives have succeeded wherever they were able to assert
themselves.
What could be done to better the functioning of the cooperatives?
Abolish the post of the Registrar of Cooperative Societies. This post
is occupied by IAS officers who don’t know the subject. Also, I have
never understood why the Centre’s agriculture secretary should be a
man who does not know agriculture. He is an IAS officer. Why should it
be so? I think the time has come to abolish the IAS. There are
qualified people in the country to run the cooperatives. The Institute
of Rural Management, Anand, (IRMA) was created for that purpose — to
produce hundreds of Kuriens. IRMA gets the best talent in the country.
Is there scope for improvement in running the milk cooperatives?
Milk is perhaps the only agricultural commodity that needs to be sold
twice a day. It is not like apples or oranges, which are seasonal. If
milk is not sold immediately, it becomes a loss. Therefore, milk
requires a cooperative. We have done quite well so far, but the
cooperative system can be further strengthened and enlarged. If we
abolish the bureaucracy in dairy and put the farmer in charge, this
can be done. Let farmers employ professional managers to oversee
operations. I was an employee of farmers. It is they who paid my
salary, not the government. Let the farmer be in charge of the
business. This model could be replicated in agriculture too. What is
the Amul model? Every village has a milk society, which collects the
milk. 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. But the farmers should employ
professional managers. Where are these professionals? That’s why we
set up IRMA, to produce Kuriens. India has emerged as the world’s
largest milk-producer. It didn’t happen by accident. A lot of planning
went into it.
Is there a way we could stop farmer suicides in the country?
Wherever farmers have had cooperatives, there have been no cases of
suicides. It has happened only in places where there were no farmer
institutions, where farmers didn’t have any say, where they were
unable to market their produce and were exploited by middlemen.
Wherever there is Amul, there has been no suicide. The solution lies
in the formation of cooperatives all over the country. You should not
underestimate the farmer’s ability to manage things, particularly when
there is an institute that churns out professionals they could employ.
IRMA produces such professionals.
Bharat and India are still not connecting. Development continues to be
city-centric with the big-city mall-growth culture, and little of it
appears to be percolating down to the villages. Is there an
alternative to this model of development?
You are asking me all these questions here in the city. But if you
were in Mehsana district, you wouldn’t be asking these questions. We
started the second Amul dairy at Mehsana, 100 miles north of Anand. It
was a dry area, where there was no agriculture because the water table
was 700 feet below ground level. I remember calling Morarji Desai to
lay the foundation of a dairy at Mehsana, which would process a
hundred thousand litres of milk daily. He said to me, "What is it you
are doing? Do you know that the water table is 700 feet below the
ground here? How could you have milk here?" I said that the chairman
of the cooperative said there was milk here and I believed him. I
believed that as a farmer, he knew what he was saying. But Desai said,
"I don’t know how it’d happen." It turned out that Mehsana became the
largest milk cooperative in India. Today they are processing two
million litres of milk a day. It is amazing what India is capable of
doing in the absence of the bureaucratic stranglehold. The bureaucracy
should become servants of the people. But they won’t change; they
won’t let go.

Your model of success worked on the foundation of a cooperative
movement as compared to the current model of private partnership that
is being seen in every field, including agriculture. Will this work in
India?
At the time Amul was formed, there was Glaxo, Nestle, Horlicks, and
Cadbury in India. What did Amul do? Amul took their pants off. I am
not at all for private partnerships. In contract farming, the profit
does not go the farmers. In the same way, private retailers obtain the
produce from the farmer and sell it for a profit in the market. The
profit does not go to the farmer. But in Amul, the profit is
distributed each year back to the farmer in proportion to the milk
he/she had given.
What is your view on special economic zones being promoted by the
government in many places, and the resistance people have shown to it
in places like Singur and Nandigram?
Amul is a very big business. I don’t think anybody has set up a bigger
business. Amul’s turnover has reached about Rs 4,000 crore.
Agriculture constitutes 72 percent of the economy. The government has
to give top priority to it. It should not be involved in acquisition
of land for the industry. The governments should govern; they should
not do business.
What is the development model you would suggest for rural India?
We have demonstrated in milk that when you put the farmer in charge,
we emerge as the largest milk-producing country in the world. That is
enough demonstration for a model in agriculture. What more convincing
is required?

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