VergheseKurien (26 November 1921 - 9 September 2012) was a renowned Indian social entrepreneur and is best known as the "Father of the White Revolution", for his 'billion-litre idea' (Operation Flood) - the world's biggest agricultural development programme. The operation took India from being a milk-deficient nation, to the largest milk producer in the world, surpassing the United States of America in 1998, with about 17 percent of global output in 2010-11, which in 30 years doubled the milk available to every person. Dairy farming became India's largest self-sustaining industry. He made the country self-sufficient in edible oils too later on, taking head-on the powerful and entrenched oil supplying lobby.
He founded around 30 institutions of excellence (like AMUL, GCMMF, IRMA, NDDB) which are owned, managed by farmers and run by professionals. As the founding chairman of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), Kurien was responsible for the creation and success of the Amul brand of dairy products. A key achievement at Amul was the invention of milk powder processed from buffalo milk (abundant in India), as opposed to that made from cow-milk, in the then major milk producing nations. His achievements with the Amul dairy led Prime Minister LalBahadurShastri to appoint him as the founder-chairman of National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in 1965, to replicate Amul's "Anand model" nationwide.
One of the greatest proponents of the cooperative movement in the world, his work has alleviated millions out of poverty not only in India but also outside. Hailed as the "Milkman of India", Kurien won several awards including the Padma Vibhushan (India's second-highest civilian honour), the World Food Prize and the Magsaysay Award for community leadership.
Early life and education
Kurien was born on 26 November 1921 at Calicut, Madras Presidency, British India (now Kozhikode, Kerala) into a Syrian Christian family. His father was a civil surgeon in Cochin, Kerala.He graduated in Physics from Loyola College, Madras in 1940 and then obtained his Bachelors in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering, Guindy affiliated to University of Madras. After completing his degree, he joined the Tata Steel Technical Institute, Jamshedpur from where he graduated in 1946. Subsequently, he went to the United States on a Government of India scholarship to earn a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Distinction) from Michigan State University in 1948.
Kurien arrived back from the United States to India on 13 May 1949, after his master's degree, and was quickly deputed to the Government of India's experimental creamery, at Anand in Gujarat's Kheda district by the government and rather half-heartedly served 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 at Anand by Tribhuvandas Patel (who would later share the Magsaysay with him) who had brought together Kheda's farmers as a cooperative union to process and sell their milk, a pioneering concept at the time.
He would brook no meddling from the political class or bureaucrats sitting in the capital cities, letting it be known upfront, though he, and his mentor and colleague, Tribhuvandas Patel were backed by the few enlightened political leaders and bureaucrats of the early Independence days who saw merit in their pioneering cooperative model.Tribhuvandas Patel's sincere and earnest efforts inspired Kurien to dedicate himself to the challenging task before them, so much so, that when Prime Minister LalBahadurShastri was to visit Anand later, to inaugurate Amul's plant, he embraced Kurien for his groundbreaking work.
Meanwhile, Kurien's buddy and dairy expert H. M. Dalaya, invented the process of making skim milk powder and condensed milk from buffalo milk instead of from cow milk. This was the reason Amul would compete successfully and well against Nestle which only used cow milk to make them. In India, buffalo milk is the main raw material unlike Europe where cow milk is abundant. The Amul pattern of cooperatives became so successful, that in 1965 Prime Minister LalBahadurShastri, created the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) to replicate the program nationwide citing Kurien's "extraordinary and dynamic leadership" upon naming him chairman.
As the 'Amul dairy experiment' was replicated in Gujarat's districts in the neighbourhood of Anand, Kurien set all of them up under GCMMF in 1973 to sell the combined produce of the dairies under a single Amul brand. Today GCMMF sells Amul products not only in India but also overseas. He quit the post of GCMMF Chairman in 2006 following disagreement with the GCMMF management.
When the National Dairy Development Board expanded the scope of Operation Flood to cover the entire country in its Phase 2 program in 1979: Kurien founded the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA).Kurien, played a key role in many other organizations, like chairing the Viksit Bharat Foundation, a body set up by the President of India. Kurien was mentioned by the Ashoka Foundation as one of the eminent present Day Social Entrepreneurs. Kurien's life story is chronicled in his memoir I Too Had a Dream. Interestingly Kurien, the person who revolutionized the availability of milk in India did not drink milk himself. Nevertheless, the work of Kurien& his team in India took India from a milk importer to a milk & milk-products exporting nation within the span of 2 decades.
Verghese married Molly and they had one daughter NirmalaKurien and a grandson, Siddharth. VergheseKurien died on 9 September 2012 after a brief spell of illness in Nadiad, near Anand in Gujarat, India. He was 90.