Our batch had the opportunity of interacting with Dr. Kurien only a few times through the two years we spent on campus. But every meeting was a highly anticipated event and the excitement among the ‘participants’ (as students in IRMA are called) would be high as they rehearsed what questions they might ask the great man.
At IRMA, Dr. Kurien was the most powerful inspiration we could have had. Sure, many of us never made it to work with cooperatives, but the lessons he taught us go beyond cooperatives and were for life. While Dr. Kurien is heralded for encouraging and leading technological innovations such as that for milk storage and transport, converting milk into milk power and reconstituting milk back from the milk powder, his life’s message for me is that of the institutions he created and led. GCMMF, NDDB, IRMA and the numerous spin-offs of each of these have literally transformed millions of lives – not something too many can honestly lay claim to. Sample this evidence from Prof. MS Sriram
A study that we did a couple of years ago showed cooperative dairies on an average delivered more than 70% of the consumer rupee to the milk producer. The cooperatives dictated the market structure. The competitors matched this benchmark at least on the upfront price. Dairying has the best return that a primary producer can get from the value chain in any agricultural commodity.
How did this happen? By putting the entire value chain from farm gate to food plate into farmer-owned structures. Today cooperatives own a significant chunk of the organized milk markets.
|At the IRMA graduation dinner Dr. Kurien, my parents and my sister – April 2005|
The lessons Dr. Kurien offered to us have many facets – his role as an institution builder holds valuable lessons for current thinking in international development. Even though trained as an engineer, Dr. Kurien was not a technophile and for that alone, we should be eternally grateful. This blurb from Kentaro’s awesome blog-post on Dr. Kurien hits the spot – bang on!
Looking back from 2012, it’s incredible that Kurien didn’t feel the crushing internal pressure “to put his technical skills to use for society” as the Jester all-too-often hears from idealistic technology graduates (who are obviously not reading the Jester’s archives!).
And it’s absolutely, positively stunning that he didn’t invent a wireless udder monitor that sends cattle owners an SMS when their cows are due for a milking, thus saving dairy farmers the arduous task of squinting to see if an udder is full. (Then again, Kurien had the great advantage of having been exposed to the challenges of dairy farmers well before time division multiple access communication protocols.)
Further, on a lighter note, there were other noteworthy impacts on our lives. For one, Dr. Kurien has created a legion of die-hard Amul loyalists. If an Amul product is not available, we might grudgingly settle for a cooperative dairy product. Second, every time we see grass lawns, we are reminded of Dr. Kurien’s diktat of not walking on the grass. Third, we all remember and have repeated many times over, his famous words about princes living in palaces and not in pig sties (his justification for the state-of-the-art facilities and single occupancy hostel rooms at IRMA). These and more are part of the fond memories we treasure. We will carry these imprints on our souls for the rest of our lives.