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Speak of a fairy tale, cooperative strength in India

With the advent of an independent India in mid-twentieth century came a whole bunch of challenges that needed to be addressed. India had just attained its freedom through an iconic non-violent freedom struggle that lasted little under a century under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and was on its journey to figure out what path best suited its spirit. India, by then was on its knees, ravaged by series of man-made and natural famines, industries that existed from the colonial times with the sole purpose to aid the British economy. So there was a massive void India had to fill before it could jump-start its ailing economy.

The only saving grace was its economy’s (significantly agrarian) innate quality of subsistence farming wherein every family produced its own food. Unfortunately, the agrarian sector too had lost its vigor. But as they say, necessity is the mother of all inventions! India boasted of having the largest livestock population in the world back in the day, as a matter of fact, it still does. Dr. Varghese Kurien, a brilliant dairy engineer of those times working in the government was inspired by the leap dairy technology had taken across the world including in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Originally monopolized by a couple of corporations until then, an already prevalent small time dairy cooperative society in Anand district in the western state of Gujarat, India was provided with a new lease of life when the then young Dr.Varghese Kurien expanded the dairy farmer base in the district of Anand and applied innovative methods to market the milk! Having witnessed the success with this model, the then Prime Minister of India,Lal Bahadur Shastri, a visionary and a statesman didn’t take much time to clearway as to replicate this cooperative business model across India under thetitle – National Dairy Development Board, headed by none other than Dr.Varghese Kurien It was codenamed “Operation Flood” what followed was inscribed in the history of modern India as “White Revolution”. Amul today, one among several major milk producing cooperative societies in India has a whopping 3.6 million milk producers, it is 13th largest dairy in the world (andit’s not even a national dairy of India, its limited to just one state!) and ithas a revenue of over 4 billion US dollars.

The example of Amul was just a glimpse of how humble movements could revolutionize an ailing economy and provide for hundreds or thousands of families. The entrepreneurial success of Amul inspired every farmer in India to pursue similar ventures that were holistic, inclusive and progressive. Driven by the massive growth, today Amul has great many value added products under its brand name, such as cheese, butter, clarified butter(ghee), curd, ice cream, dairy whitener, baby foods, flavored milk, butter milk etc.

Over a period of time every village saw the emergence of some or the other form of cooperative society that ensured security in terms of income, marketability, capacity building and trainings, vendor management, financing and commissioning new dairy infrastructures and dairy farmers alike, larger member base meant that a cooperative society had the power to bargain and dictate terms, thus minimizing the chances of risk, which otherwise is not the case when a farmer tries to market his produce or manage his vendors. He is always at the receiving end. Today, as a result of the Operation Flood, Everystate of India has a Milk producers’ cooperative union/society, modeled out of Amul’s successful pilot that in turn provided livelihood to millions in fewer than 5 decades. Today, these Milk Producers’ Union monopolizes the national dairy scene. Like Amul (Gujarat), over 15 Indian states have created their own brands such as Nandini (Karnataka), Milma (Kerala), Gokul (Maharashtra), Verka (Punjab), Saras (Rajasthan), Vijaya (Andhra), Aavin (Tamil Nadu) etc.

An amazing quality of Cooperative societies is how they function as a democratic unit and embody modern democratic principles as its foundation. Every cooperative society must be owned by the members of the cooperative society and claim equal ownership over the society, every policy is drafted democratically where in the members are consulted with and a motion is passed to make amendments. Annual elections are held to elect the members ofthe governing body; board of directors and every one of them is a member of the cooperative society. The Indian government over 5 decades has brought special privileges and laws to help and protect the cooperative societies, including financial benefits.

Like a wildfire, the cooperative society movement spread to every other producer oriented industry. One of the hottest topics in the contemporary times is of FPOs (Farmer Producer Organization). An FPO typically has thousands of farmers within a region, and the FPOs typically engage with great many vendors who supply farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizers and negotiate on behalf of thousands of farmers, armed by the volume as a leverage and go on to dictate terms. Same is the case with marketing the produce wherein the FPOs negotiate with the buyers for best possible price, eliminating any intermediary in the process. This way, farmers have improved their earnings drastically. Similarly, there are great many cooperative societies across India with dedicated product offering. One can find cooperative societies that deal with fruit growers, millet growers, paddygrowers, pulses growers, spice growers, and many value added products too!

Adya, for example is one of the prominent buyers of a cooperative society in Kerala, India – the Wayanad Social Service Society. Here, we engage directly with the farmers and the cooperative society, communicate the prevalent market standards and educate them of our vision; the WSSS in turn produces, processes and ships our products over, while addressing to our esteemed customer base. Backed by our own commitment to fair-trade, the earnings reach the growers directly through their own cooperative society!

Speak of a fairy tale!

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