I studied in a government school, in Kerala. Each Friday, there used to be a ‘debate’ period. Students were free to speak on any subject. I volunteered to speak on ‘cooperation.’ I didn’t know much about cooperation except that it had something to do with people coming together for a common cause. I also knew that Gandhiji fought the British by bringing people together and awakening them. A cousin, who was studying in a college, helped me with the script. I spoke well, my fellow students raised several questions and my class teacher complimented me.
Little did I realise that my love for ‘cooperation’ will one day take me to Anand, in Gujarat. It happened in 1962, soon after my graduation in veterinary science. I went to work with the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union (AMUL). Ten years later, I joined the National Dairy Development Board to be part of a team that would replicate the AMUL model throughout India. In all, I spent about four decades working with farmers, spreading the AMUL philosophy. No other job would have given me as much happiness as working for the farmers’ cause.
Operation Flood-I at Erode
Launched in the 1970s, the Ope- ration Flood-I programme covered ten states and the four metros and sought to create 18 ‘Anands.’ Dr Verghese Kurien, the architect, had only one agenda: replicate Anand. One day, he told me: “I am sending you to Tamil Nadu to find out if there is milk there and whether Anand can be replicated there.” During October 1973, NDDB deployed a Spearhead Team to Erode. I was the Team Leader.
Erode, 400 km from Chennai, was a small town with 100,000 population. The town was considered to be a ‘milk town’: milk and milk products were abundantly going to distant places from there by road and rail.
Preliminary meeting with TNDDC
The Anand Pattern was initiated in Tamil Nadu in October 1973 with a meeting with L M Menezes, Managing Director, Tamil Nadu Dairy Development Corporation (TNDDC). Senior officers of TNDDC were present at the meeting. Menezes introduced me to them and outlined the purpose of the meeting. TNDDC officials explained the working of the milk cooperatives organised by them under Operation Flood. Those cooperatives deviated from the Anand Pattern on two major aspects: milk was collected from the farmers’ houses by vendors engaged by the cooperatives and no testing of individual samples was carried out. A flat price was paid to the farmers and all of them received the same price, irrespective of quality.
With several cultural differences between Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, the officers were sceptical if the farmers here would accept the Anand Pattern. However, they were okay with trying it, more so when I indicated that the Anand Pattern trial would be a joint exercise between us. Menezes suggested that we begin with Erode since Erode had several established dairies and milk traders. TNDDC had tried collecting milk in Erode but didn’t succeed due to stiff competition from the private sector. He added that if the ‘trial’ succeeded in Erode, the Pattern would be extended to other districts. I welcomed the idea and set sail to Erode!
The Erode visit
I took the train to Erode, along with V Thirthagiri, Deputy Milk Commissioner (Cooperation). We visited the Bhavani Milk Supply Society that collected milk from farmers through vendors and sold it in Bhavani town. The President of the society complained that the quantity of milk collection had come down drastically because of drought and competition. The society was collecting less than 100 litres of milk a day. When Thirthagiri asked about my opinion on the society, I replied it was surprising the society was getting even that quantity of milk!
Buffaloes managed better than in Gujarat
I started visiting the villages and meeting farmers. I noticed that they had adopted improved agricultural practices. They were keeping bullocks for ploughing, transportation and paddy threshing and buffaloes for milk. Both bullocks and buffaloes were in excellent condition. Milch buffaloes were given rice bran. Fodder consisted of jowar, paddy straw, sugarcane top, groundnut clover, etc. I was impressed with the management of the buffaloes; it was much the same way as in Gujarat if not a shade better.
I adopted a novel way of identifying progressive farmers: I looked for the tallest haystack and entered that house. My judgement turned correct as invariably I met the real farmers. I covered over hundred farmers in one week and discussed with them the problems faced in selling milk. They said: buffaloes had to be milked very early in the morning as well as in the afternoon to suit the buyers’ convenience. They talked about under-weighment, irregular payments, not accepting all the milk offered, lack of animal health care facility, high cost of feed, low milk prices, etc. I noticed that the vendors who were collecting milk for cooperatives, creameries, private dairies and milk contractors were using defective measuring sets, not stamped by the designated authority. They carried only one litre measure, anything less than a litre was ‘approximation,’ most of the times to the advantage of the vendor!
Practically, all major villages had at least one creamery (hand operated cream separator) of varying capacities. Evening and morning milk was combined and supplied to the creamery. Cream was separated and payment was based on the quantity of cream recovered. A small aluminium ‘mug’ was used for measuring the cream. It was boiled, chilled and sent to towns to be sold as milk. Some quantity was converted into curd. Erode ‘milk’ and ‘curd’ had great demand in the towns. The cream was converted into butter and sold in the towns. Consumers preferred to buy butter and make ghee at home. Erode ghee was popular. All the creameries put together were handling about 20,000-30,000 litres of milk. But milk payments were irregular.
Nilgiri Dairy and Nambisan Dairy were two major dairies in Erode. They had pasteurisation and butter making facilities. Nilgiri Dairy enjoyed good clientele in Bangalore and Madras and Nambisan Dairy in Kerala and Madras. Both the dairies, together, were handling 30,000-40,000 litres of milk per day. The small dairies and the milk contractors handled about 10,000-20,000 litres of milk.
Two Milk Supply Cooperatives were functioning in Erode: Erode Milk Supply Union at Erode handling about 2000 litres and Bhavani Milk Supply Society handling about 150 litres per day. Both collected milk through vendors and sold it in Erode and Bhavani. The Erode Milk Supply Union had a chilling plant. Milk cooperatives were ‘dumping ground’ during flush season and in lean season, milk supply to the cooperatives used to hit rock bottom.
The quality of milk was pathetic. The Union supplied milk at the consumers’ houses. Vendors who sold milk in the towns played different forms of mischief. All vendors carried two ‘kinds’ of measuring sets: one for buying with concave bottoms and the other for selling with convex bottoms!
Same price for buffalo and cow milk
TNDDC did not follow separate price for buffalo and cow milk. A common price chart was adopted. This encouraged adulteration. The net result was collection of adulterated buffalo milk with low Fat and SNF contents. Farmers knew at what level of fat they stand to gain and adulterated milk to that level!
Based on the brief survey carried out, the estimated marketable milk surplus in the Erode milkshed was one-lakh litres. To ascertain the actual Fat and SNF contents in milk, I collected milk samples from 100 buffaloes. The average Fat and SNF in the 100 samples tested were 8 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively. These figures were comparable with the Fat and SNF contents in Gujarat buffaloes!
Advent of milk revolution at Erode...
After my Erode visit, I sought a meeting with Menezes and his team. I submitted a set of recommendations, which if effected, could turn Erode into another Anand. Like: introduction of Kg Fat system, individual fat testing, correct measurement, removal of ‘quota system,’ accepting all milk offered, regular milk payments, door to door extension work, provision of animal health care facilities and above all, participation of farmers in the cooperatives.
Menezes welcomed the recommendations and decided to go ahead with the ‘TRIAL’ of Anand Pattern in Erode Milkshed.