Scaling up Kurien

Updated: Mar 22 2006, 05:30am hrs
One statistic captures the change brought by Dr Verghese Kurien in Indias villages. In the early 1960s, the animal husbandry sector accounted for just 2% of rural income; today, it is about a third. Given its employment intensity, four crore peoplea fair number of them womentoday depend on animal husbandry for their livelihood. Even in poor and backward areas in Bihar, dairying is a fast-growing activity. A major part of this is from the dairy sector.

The orthodoxy in the Food and Agriculture Organisation (of the UN) in the late 1970sand, ironically, remains sowas that dairying is a large-scale industry and cannot be organised at the household level. Kurien and India very convincingly changed that thinking. This will perhaps not make Page 3 news, but this form of organisation has been clearly proven, and is being replicated successfully, in India.

Kuriens feat was all the more credible because he achieved this with almost no support from the bureaucracy. India, for instance, has a cooperative law handed down from the British ages that has, if anything, ended by bureaucratising our cooperatives. Its to Kuriens managerial credit that he spread the cooperative concept beyond anyones wildest dreams. Despite the success of the white revolution, it is Indias failure that it has not introduced systems conducive to the spread and growth of cooperatives.

A tribute to the NDDB (National Dairy Development Board, an apex organisation in the milk industry that Kurien headed until 1998) model is that it is being replicated in other areas such as watershed development. Cooperatives are mushrooming in the irrigation sector and already there are a few hundred such bodies operating in the country. Today, half a million hectares of land are irrigated under such cooperative models, which is almost equal to what the governments do at a much higher cost.

A fine example is the Satguru Foundation in Dahod, Gujarat. Originally funded by the Mafatlals, the Foundation today has about 184 cooperatives, each operating at the village level, irrigating some 100,000 acre. Villagers supplement external funding from their own sources, use low-cost technology to set up a small irrigation system, create reserves for as long as two years, and make money by selling the water. The model is now being copied in Rajasthan.

Similar examples are emerging across India in farm management, medical services, forest preservation and finance sectors. And, several of these, as they unfold, are exact copies of the Anand or NDDB model. Kurien, to me, is clearly an icon of the last century. And, it is impossible for anyone to chip away at that memory.

(As told to FE)

The writer, an eminent economist, is also a former Union minister