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The story of White Revolution

The story of White Revolution
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This book is essentially a story of Operation Flood (OF), commonly referred to as ‘white revolution', covering all its three phases (1970-96). But it is set within an ambitious framework in terms of both time and space and in the wider context of the political economy of evolving trade, and the aid policies. Three lengthy chapters, taking up almost half of the text, discuss the growth of farm trade from the Age of Mercantilism through Adam Smith, the World War II, the Cold War era (which saw the poor countries struggling to develop against odds) up to the 1994 Agreement on Trade in Agriculture.

In the main, the argument runs thus: Food aid is often the benign face of surplus disposal, benefiting special interests in donor countries and disrupting farming in recipient countries; Operation Flood is an exception to the rule that food aid does more harm than good; government-funded agricultural research could ensure people's entitlement to food better than big commercial ventures; and India's White Revolution was successful because of the creation of a small farmer-controlled network of dairy cooperatives.

Operation Flood

Operation Flood, launched in 1970 to make use of the dairy aid offered by the European Economic Community, met with strident criticism from several quarters who contended that the liberal foreign monetary assistance would cause milk prices to crash, disincentivise milk production and ultimately make India permanently dependent on other countries for its needs of dairy products.

The challenge was to see that the flow of the dairy aid is calibrated in a way that the supplies do not flood the market and to design a consolidated national plan to mitigate disincentives to the domestic dairy farmers. The strategy was to “monetise” the aid, invest the profits from the monetised commodities into capital-intensive but essential infrastructure in the form of National Milk Grid System (NMGS).

This holistic and multifaceted strategy paid off. Not only did the market supplies were unaffected but the dairy farmers got the right prices, and the necessary infrastructure was established and streamlined to match the growing urban demand. The cardinal principle on which the operation worked was that the entire value chain — from procurement to marketing — should be the sole and exclusive domain of the farmer, with the small, marginal, and landless farmers getting greater importance.

Exceptional

In ‘Amul', hailed as the model, the small farmers accounted for about 70 per cent of milk production, and 22.5 per cent of the rural households' income came from milk. Operation Flood is held out by the author as one of the exceptional programmes where India could dispel fears that food aid would reduce it to a state of perpetual dependence on others, serving as a market for the surpluses of the rich countries. Those in charge of running it could exercise necessary autonomy to negotiate with the EEC and the World Food Programme (WFP) establishment for monetisation of the milk aid by holding forth that they had the option of switching to the United States, Australia, or New Zealand. If India could emerge as the world's leading milk producer, upstaging the U.S., it was thanks to the OF.

The story of the White Revolution — which features heroes like Kurien and many villains too, and set in Anand (Amul) and beyond (the National Dairy Development Board) — has been told in a way that is meticulous and scholarly, what with its extensive notes and references. Such voluminous data and information do have their uses and value. But, beyond a point, they could hinder rather than facilitate reading. The narrative is some times episodic, polemical in some places, combative in others and dramatic on occasions. Overall, the book makes a heavy read.

What comes across clearly, however, is that Scholten passionately believes that the dairy cooperative movement has “always helped to provide a safety net to the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of our population, which otherwise suffer the worst consequences of any economic crisis.” This echoes the NDDB Chairman's recent statement affirming total faith in the farmers' willingness and innate ability to join hands in a spirit of cooperation.

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