Verghese Kurien, born on 26th November 1921, was a visionary social entrepreneur whose remarkable contributions transformed India's dairy industry and earned him the title of "Father of the White Revolution." His groundbreaking idea, known as Operation Flood, not only made dairy farming India's largest self-sustaining industry but also a major rural employment sector, providing a substantial share of rural income.
Verghese Kurien was born in Kozhikode, Kerala, into an Anglican Suriyani Nasrani family. He completed his early education at the Diamond Jubilee Higher Secondary School in Gobichettipalayam, Tamil Nadu. His educational journey took him to Loyola College and the College of Engineering, Guindy, both affiliated with the University of Madras. There, he graduated in physics in 1940 and later obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1943. His pursuit of knowledge then led him to the Tata Steel Technical Institute in Jamshedpur.
Kurien's life took a pivotal turn when he chose to study dairy engineering, setting the stage for his extraordinary career. After further studies in the United States at Michigan State University, he returned to India with a master's degree in mechanical engineering.
In 1949, the government of India assigned Kurien to work at the experimental creamery in Anand, Bombay province. It was during this period that he encountered Tribhuvandas Patel, who had established a cooperative to purchase milk from farmers. Kurien's life-changing decision was to stay and help Patel develop this dairy cooperative. In 1950, he founded the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union Limited, better known as Amul.
Amul faced a recurring issue – fluctuating milk production during different seasons. To address this, Kurien's colleague, H. M. Dalaya, devised a way to produce skim milk powder and condensed milk from buffalo milk rather than cow milk. This innovation was critical to Amul's success, as buffalo milk was more abundant in India. Amul's cooperative model empowered farmers to connect directly with consumers, eliminating intermediaries. Kurien's unwavering commitment to these principles set Amul apart.
Verghese Kurien's visionary dairy cooperative model was supported by political leaders who recognised the importance of food security and self-sufficiency in post-independence India. His work aimed at aligning the economic self-interest of farmers and promoting the cooperative spirit to ensure India's food security. By emphasising economic interests, Kurien successfully brought together diverse sections of society.
Amul's cooperative model gained widespread popularity and was replicated across India. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri played a pivotal role by entrusting Kurien with the task of expanding the cooperative model nationally. Kurien founded the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and, with support from the UNDP, initiated the movement of high-yield native cattle to urban areas. Many Indian states followed suit, establishing their cooperatives based on the Amul model.
India became the world's largest milk producer by 1998 under Verghese Kurien's guidance, surpassing the United States. His efforts kept multinational companies out of the dairy sector, ensuring it remained in the hands of cooperatives. Kurien's legacy extended to the establishment of institutions like the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) and various cooperative ventures across the globe.
Kurien's impact transcended his professional achievements. He played a key role in the success of the "Amul girl" ad campaign and the TV series Surabhi, both of which became iconic. His contributions to the dairy sector continue to inspire scholars, managers, and leaders who aim to apply lessons from his work to ongoing rural issues.
Verghese Kurien passed away on 9th September 2012, at the age of 90. His work continues to be celebrated, and his birthday, 26th November, is observed as National Milk Day in India. Kurien's incredible journey from a young student with a dream to the Father of the White Revolution serves as a testament to the power of visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to a cause. His legacy lives on in the dairy industry, and in the hearts of millions of farmers and consumers, he transformed.
Throughout his life, Verghese Kurien received numerous accolades, including the Padma Vibhushan, the World Food Prize, the Wateler Peace Prize, and the Ramon Magsaysay Award, among others. His contributions earned him honorary doctorate degrees from universities worldwide, and his legacy continues to be celebrated to this day.