India’s 'milkman' dies aged 90

First published in United Kingdom news

Verghese Kurien, an engineer known as “India’s milkman” who helped revolutionise the country’s dairy industry, despite his own dislike for milk, has died aged 90.

Mr Kurien, a strong advocate of co-operatives, was convinced throughout his life that small farmers could succeed if they had access to technology and markets.

Indian leaders hailed him as a visionary who empowered hundreds of thousands of dairy farmers and turned the nation into the world’s largest milk producer, ending chronic shortages.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh said Mr Kurien had engineered a “white revolution.”

Mr Kurien, who studied engineering at Michigan State University in the United States, returned to India soon after it won independence from Britain in 1947 and began working in its dairy industry.

At the time, Indian farmers travelled long distances to sell milk that had often spoiled during the journey because of a lack of refrigeration.

Mr Kurien set up a large milk co-operative in Gujarat state that allowed small-scale dairy farmers to pool their resources and sell their products under a single brand. The co-operative, Amul, has grown into one of the country’s best-known brands.

Later, as head of the National Dairy Development Board, he replicated that model across the country to eventually include 10 million milk producers in a network of 96,000 dairy co-operatives.

Yoginder Alagh, an economist, said Mr Kurien showed that milk production did not need to be done on a large scale if small farmers banded together.

He won three of the nation’s top awards for his achievements in bringing milk to the people of his country, despite his own personal tastes.

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