India: From a milk-deficit nation to a milk-products exporter

The evolution of the dairy sector in India and the stellar role played by dairy cooperatives since the launch of Operation Flood form an integral part of the country’s remarkable growth story after Independence. Today, India is the largest producer of milk in the world, contributing 23% of global milk production.  

During the 1950s and 1960s, the situation was radically different. India was a milk-deficit nation dependent on imports, and the annual production growth was negative for several years. The annual compound growth rate in milk production during the first decade after independence was 1.64%, which declined to 1.15% during the 1960s. In 1950-51, per capita consumption of milk in the country was only 124 grams per day. By 1970, this figure had dropped to 107 grams per day, one of the lowest in the world and well below the minimum recommended nutritional standards. India’s dairy industry was struggling to survive. The country produced less than 21 million tonnes of milk per annum despite having the largest cattle population in the world.

Following the visit of late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to the Anand district of Gujarat in 1964, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was created in 1965 with a mandate to support the creation of the ‘Anand Pattern’ of dairy cooperatives across the country through the Operation Flood (OF) programme which was to be implemented in phases.

The ‘Anand Pattern’ was essentially a cooperative structure comprising village-level Dairy Cooperative Societies (DCSs), which promote district-level unions, which in turn promote state-level marketing federation. Starting in 1970, NDDB replicated the Anand Pattern cooperatives through the Operation Flood programme all over India.

Dr. Verghese Kurien, widely renowned as the “Father of White Revolution” in India, was the first chairman of NDDB. Along with his team, Dr. Kurien commenced work on the launch of the project, which envisaged the organisation of Anand-pattern cooperatives in milk sheds across the country from where liquid milk produced and procured by milk cooperatives would be transported to cities.

Operation Flood was implemented in the following phases:

1. Phase I (1970–1980) was financed by the sale of skimmed milk powder and butter oil donated by the European Union (then the European Economic Community) through the World Food Programme.

2. Phase II (1981–1985) increased the number of milk sheds from 18 to 136; urban markets expanded the outlets for milk to 290. By the end of 1985, a self-sustaining system of 43,000 village cooperatives with 42,50,000 milk producers had been covered.

3. Phase III (1985–1996) enabled dairy cooperatives to expand and strengthen the infrastructure required to procure and market increasing volumes of milk. This phase added 30000 new dairy cooperatives, which led to a total of 73,000.

Operation Flood helped quality milk reach consumers across 700 towns and cities through a National Milk Grid. The programme also helped remove the need for middlemen, thereby reducing seasonal price variations. The cooperative structure made the whole exercise of production and distribution of milk and milk products economically viable for farmers to undertake on their own. It also ended India’s dependence on imported milk solids. Not only was the nation equipped to meet its local dairy needs, but it also started exporting milk powder to many foreign countries. Genetic improvement of milking animals also increased due to cross-breeding. As the dairy industry modernised and expanded, around 10 million farmers started earning their income from dairy farming.

Milk production in 1950-51 stood at merely 17 Million Tonnes (MT). In 1968-69, prior to the launch of Operation Flood, milk production was only 21.2 MT which increased to 30.4 MT by 1979-80 and 51.4 MT by 1989-90Now it has increased to 210 million tonnes in 2020-21. Today, milk production is growing at the rate of two per cent in the whole world, whereas in India, its growth rate is more than six per cent. The per capita availability of milk in India is much higher than the world average. In three decades (the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s), the daily milk consumption in the country rose from a low of 107 grams per person in 1970 to 427 grams per person in 2020-21 as against the world average of 322 grams per day during 2021.

After Operation Flood, the Indian dairy and animal husbandry sector emerged as a primary source of income for a huge number of rural households – most of them either landless, small or marginal farmers. Today, India holds the place of pride of having been the largest milk-producing country in the world for nearly two-and-a-half decades.

The dairy sector assumes a great deal of significance for India on various accounts. As an industry, it employs more than 80 million rural households, with the majority being small and marginal farmers as well as the landless. The cooperative societies have not only made the farmers self-sufficient but have also broken the shackles of gender, caste, religion, and community. Women producers form the major workforce of the dairy sector in the country. The sector is an important job provider, especially for women, and plays a leading role in women’s empowerment.

Every year, since 2001, June 1 is observed as World Milk Day by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations to acknowledge the importance of milk as a global food and to celebrate the dairy sector.  In India, the birthday of Dr. Verghese Kurien, on November 26, is observed as National Milk Day.

With a series of measures being taken by the Government as well as the growing role of the private sector in dairy development, India is expected to sustain its growth in milk production and milk processing in the coming decades. Further, to encourage farmers to take up productivity enhancement of indigenous breeds of milch animals in a scientific manner and to motivate Cooperative and Milk producer Companies, the Government of India is conferring the prestigious National Gopal Ratna Awards on the occasion of National Milk Day. To know about the winners of the National Gopal Ratna Awards – 2022, Click Here.

The dairy sector has been a major contributor to the growth of the rural economy in India. The government has facilitated the dairy farming infrastructure through its initiatives such as the development of the National Dairy Plan, a sustainable development-focused framework for the sector, along with general empowerment schemes such as the Jan Dhan Yojana and the Start-up India initiative. In the past eight years, the animal husbandry and dairying sector have received a great deal of impetus under Prime Minister Modi’s vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, and the journey of this sector is indeed a remarkable reflection of self-reliance.


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