[Editorial] Lessons from White Revolution for Green Revolution

What is the White Revolution?

  • White Revolution is considered as the world’s largest dairy development program.
  • It started with the launch of Operation Flood in 1970.
  • It sought to transform the country from a milk-deficient nation into the largest milk producer.
  • Verghese Kurien was a key figure in this process. He was the founder and chairman of Amul and the chairman of the National Dairy Development Board which spearheaded the project.
  • November 26th, 2021 marks the 100th birth anniversary of Dr. Kurien.

Why is it significant?

  • In 3 decades, the White Revolution succeeded in doubling the milk availability per person in India.
  • In 2018, some 22% of the global milk output was from India.
  • It has made India’s dairy farming the single largest self-sustainable rural employment provider in the country.
  • The Revolution succeeded in boosting the incomes and the wealth of cattle-owning small farmers in India. They number in millions and many of them are women.
  • Amul has turned out to be one of India’s most loved brands. It is internationally respected for its product quality and efficient management system. It is successfully competing with well-established brands from across the world.
  • This farmer-owned enterprise brought up many technological challenges. For solving these, Dr. Kurien and his compatriots were compelled to develop indigenous solutions. This was amidst the widespread belief that Indians couldn’t make it.

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How was it different from the Green Revolution?

Understanding the difference between the 2 Revolutions- both of which have had significant impact on the Indian economy- provides valuable insights:

Purposes:

  • The Green Revolution’s purpose was to prevent food shortage by boosting agricultural output.
  • It was mainly a technocratic enterprise fuelled by principles of science and efficiency.
  • The White Revolution’s purpose was not to boost milk output, but to boost farm income in Gujarat- especially of the small farmers.
  • It was mainly a socio-economic enterprise fuelled by principles of equity and, to some degree, politics:
    • The leaders, like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Tribhuvandas Kishibhai Patel, sought to bring in a cooperative movement among the farmers of Gujarat to boost their incomes.
    • Kurien, in his autobiography ‘I Too Had a Dream’, highlights the visionary nature of this enterprise.

Equity:

  • In the White Revolution, equity was kept in the foreground as a key objective and efficiency of production process was kept in the background as means to an end.
  • On the other hand, the main objective of Green Revolution was to increase output and efficiency.
  • For this end, it relied on application of scientific breakthroughs with management methods to obtain economies via scale.
  • It was heavily reliant on inputs (eg: chemical fertilizers and pesticides) to be produced on large scale and at low cost. This had several consequences:
    • Establishment of large fertilizer manufacturing factories
    • Construction of large dams and irrigation systems
    • Increased necessity of monocropping i.e. focusing on one crop, as opposed to cultivation of multiple crops- some considered ‘non-essential’, helped in efficient application of appropriate inputs on large scale to increase output.
    • Farms turned into large factories dedicated to efficiently producing large volumes of a single product.
    • Product and process diversification was weeded out to eliminate complexity in these factory-like farms.

Productivity:

  • In such a factory mechanism-like approach, workers are often considered simply as a factor for producing outputs.
  • When productivity is defined as output produced per worker, it can be increased simply by eliminating workers whenever possible. In pursuit of efficiency, they may be replaced by machines.
  • This approach may be acceptable when the sole purpose of the enterprise is to boost investors’ profits.
  • The mismatch of such a policy for enterprises seeking to increase farmers’ income is highlighted by the White Revolution experience.
  • Dr. Kurien founded the Institute of Rural Management Anand. This IRMA developed a new breed of managers whose primary focus is on increasing farmers’ well-being.

What can a new Green Revolution learn from the White Revolution?

  • November 26, 2021 marks another event- a year since the start of the farmer protests over the 3 agriculture reform laws, made to undo the policies brought in through Green Revolution.
  • The government’s new policies sought to boost small farmers’ income by 2 fold. This came when the farmers’ incomes have been stagnating even while the stock markets soared.
  • However, the protesting farmers feared the new laws would enable big corporations to make rake in profits while marginalizing the farmers even more.
  • Now, the government must go back to the drawing board to formulate better ways to boost farm incomes.
  • In this context, the White Revolution can provide valuable pointers:
    • Inclusion and equity in governance should be key to the new enterprise’s design. Its purpose must be boosting the wealth and income of the small asset owners and workers of the sector, rather than boosting investors’ returns.
    • Equal importance must be given to the ‘social’ and ‘business’ sides of the enterprise. New metrics need to be developed for measuring productivity. The social fabric must be strengthened through development and use of ‘non-corporate’ management methods.
    • The enterprise must use ‘local system’ solution instead of ‘global/ national scale solution’. Its principal resources (including workers) should be locally sourced. It should cultivate a symbiosis with the local community.
    • People on the ground are often better scientists in the local context. The universities and academia should be open to learning from the local knowledge. The science behind the enterprise should be practical and usable by the people.
    • A steady evolution, rather than a drastic revolution, is needed for sustainable transformation. Large-scale transformation, imposed from the top, like strong drugs used to treat certain ailments, can have severe side-effects. The Green Revolution’s impact on soil health and water resources is a case in point.
  • India isn’t the only country to use such ‘modern scientific’ methods to boost agricultural outputs. Soviet Union and the USA have achieved spectacular results through methods similar to the ones used in Green Revolution. However, this was at the cost of Soviet peasants and small American farmers.
  • New solutions for boosting farm income are imperative now.
  • The environmental degradation can be reversed only by making fundamental changes in economics and in management sciences.

Conclusion:

An enterprise of the people, governed by the people and for the people is the essence of democratic economic governance

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