Over the years, Amul, one of the most beloved brands of our country, has become the taste of India, just as its tagline claims. Every Indian millennial has grown up listening to the jingles of its many dairy products, and the Amul girl, the brand’s mascot in the polka-dotted dress, has become a nostalgia-evoking symbol. Amul has truly come a long way since its founding in 1946.
The revolution started as an awareness among the farmers that grew and matured into a protest movement and the determination to liberate themselves. Over four decades ago, the life of a farmer in Kaira District was very much like that of his counterpart anywhere else in India. His income was derived almost entirely from seasonal crops. The income from milch buffaloes was undependable.
The marketing and distribution system for the milk was controlled by private traders and middlemen. As milk is perishable, farmers were compelled to sell it for whatever they were offered. Often, they had to sell cream and ghee at throwaway prices. In this situation, the one who gained was the private trader.
Gradually, the realization dawned on the farmers that the exploitation by the trader could be checked only if marketed their milk themselves. In order to do that they needed to form some sort of an organization. This realization is what led to the establishment of the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union Limited (popularly known as Amul) which was formally registered on December 14, 1946.
The Kaira Union began pasteurizing milk for the Bombay Milk Scheme in June 1948. An assured market proved a great incentive to the milk producers of the district. By the end of 1948, more than 400 farmers joined in more village societies, and the quantity of milk handled by one Union increased from 250 to 5,000 liters a day.
Springboards for success.
Each failure, each obstacle, each stumbling block can be turned into a success story. In the early years, Amul had to face a number of problems. With every problem came opportunity. A chance to turn a negative into a positive.
Milk by products and supplementary yield which suffered from the same lack of marketing and distribution facilities became encumbrances. Instead of being bogged down by their fate they were used as stepping stones for expansion. Backward integration of the process led the cooperatives to advances in animal husbandry and veterinary practice.
Milk by products: An excuse to expand.
The response to these provided stimulus for further growth. For example, as the movement spread in the district, it was found that the Bombay Milk Scheme could not absorb the extra milk collected by the Kaira Union in winter, when the production on an average was 2.5 times more than in summer. Thus, even by 1953, the farmer-members had no assured market for the extra milk produced in winter.
They were again forced to sell a large surplus at low rates to the middlemen. The remedy was to set up a plant to process milk into products like butter and milk powder. A Rs 5 million plant to manufacture milk powder and butter was completed in 1955. In 1958, the factory was expanded to manufacture sweetened condensed milk.
Two years later, a new wing was added for the manufacture of 2500 tons of roller-dried baby food and 600 tons of cheese per year, the former based on a formula developed with the assistance of Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore. It was the first time anywhere in the world that cheese or baby food was made from buffalo milk on a large, commercial scale.
Another milestone was the completion of a project to manufacture balanced cattle feed. The plant was donated by OXFAM under the Freedom From Hunger Campaign of the FAO.
To meet the requirement of milk powder for the Defense, the Kaira Union was asked by the Government of India in 1963 to setup additional milk drying capacity. A new dairy capable of producing 40 tons of milk powder and 20 tons of butter a day was speedily completed. It was declared open in 1965.
The Mogar Complex where high protein weaning food, chocolate and malted food are being made was another initiative by Amul to ensure that while it fulfilled the social responsibility to meet the demand for liquid milk, its members were not deprived of the benefits to be had from the sale of high value-added products.