Feast of Memories -6

Dr. Madhavan continuing his story of formation of village level Milk Producers Cooperative Societies in Erode shares the impact the Anand Pattern Cooperatives organised in the area had in a short period of time. Also the way operations of creameries and other agents procuring milk got impacted by operations of milk producers cooperatives.
Don’t Open Account with Cooperative Bank! But why ?

When the first set of Anand Pattern cooperatives were ready, we had to open its accounts with a bank.

The team was particular that the accounts were opened with the district cooperative bank. However, to our surprise, the Deputy Milk Commissioner Cooperation advised us to open the accounts with the nationalised banks as the district cooperative bank was not efficient.

I told the Deputy Milk Commissioner Cooperation that being a cooperative, it was logical that the accounts were opened with the district cooperative bank only, despite the fact that the cooperative bank was not as efficient as the nationalised bank. Further, I said that the involvement of our cooperatives in the cooperative bank would improve its efficiency. I also told him that NDDB’s mandate under the Operation Flood was to promote cooperatives.

The Coimbatore District Cooperative Bank had its branches all over Erode, including some rural towns which made it easy for our cooperatives. I wrote a detailed letter to the Chairman, Coimbatore District Cooperative Bank explaining our programme and the expectations we had from the cooperative bank. I was told by one of the Directors of the Bank that my letter was placed before the Board and elicited a lot of discussion.

The Board welcomed the offer and unanimously resolved to extend full cooperation to the Erode Milk Producers’ Union and its member cooperatives. The Chairman of the Bank took personal interest in the matter and we got full cooperation from all its branches. Of course, we encountered some problems here and there, but we were able to sort it out easily.

After a few months of transaction, I was told that the Chairman of the Bank had remarked that the bank’s association with the Erode Milk Producers’ Union and its affiliated cooperatives had greatly improved the efficiency of the bank!

Impact of Anand Pattern Cooperatives

The first batch of six Anand Pattern Cooperatives organised by the Spearhead Team (March 13, 1974) attracted lot of attention and publicity as such cooperatives were totally new to all.

The first day milk collection was 249 litres (only evening collection).

What attracted the farmers most were: correct measurements, testing of milk for fat, payments based on quality (fat content), regular payments for milk (weekly, on the village shanty day), convenient milk collection timings, issuance of pass books to suppliers for entering milk quantities, fat contents and value of milk received, trained staff (local) for managing the cooperatives, elected Management Committee to manage the affairs of the cooperative and complete transparency in the entire operations.

The milk procurement price chart was prominently displayed at the cooperative for public view. Since the payment was based on fat content, farmers gradually realised that purer the milk, higher the amount fetched.

They were quick to realise that adulteration didn’t benefit, on the contrary it was a losing proposition. The farmers started getting Rs 1.00 to 1.50 more per litre, as compared to the price offered by private agencies. Creameries, private dairies and vendors started losing customers and their milk collection started coming down. Milk collection started going up in the Anand Pattern cooperatives.

The quality of milk improved dramatically: 8-9 % Fat and 9-10 % SNF. TNDDC staff at the Erode Dairy were astonished that Tamil Nadu buffalo milk also had high Fat and SNF, like the Gujarati buffaloes!

Soon the news spread to neighbouring villages and we started getting requests for formation of cooperatives in new villages. But, we decided to go slow on formation of new cooperatives as we wanted to stabilise the ones already formed.

Therefore, we were concentrating on the existing cooperatives. We didn’t want to dilute our efforts by organising several cooperatives, at a time. We wanted the existing cooperatives to serve as models based on which further cooperatives will be formed by the farmers themselves. In fact, this was what exactly happened. Only the first set of cooperatives took time and the subsequent cooperatives came up much faster.

When we were not in a position to form a cooperative in a village immediately, the farmers would ask us to at least take a few rounds in our jeeps in their villages as seeing our jeeps, the creameries and private dairies will immediately raise the milk price! Such was the impact of the Anand Pattern cooperatives.

Visit of Mr. Menezes

Mr Menezes came down from Madras and visited the cooperatives along with me in our jeep. He was extremely happy with the changes taking place as a result of the new cooperatives in the villages, the excellent quality of milk procured, with high fat and SNF contents.

He wanted similar cooperatives to be organised in other districts. Also, he wanted the kg fat milk pricing system to be followed in other districts immediately. He asked the TNDDC staff in other districts to visit Erode and study the system and replicate it in their areas.

He deputed progressive farmers from other districts (including chairmen of cooperatives) to visit Erode. On one of his visits, while passing through a village, I noticed a milk vendor carrying milk measures with concave bottoms. I suddenly stopped the jeep and shouted at him saying how many times I had asked him to change the defective measures.

The vendor immediately got down from the bicycle and respectfully told me that he will change the measures immediately. Mr Menezes was astonished at the respect that I commanded form the vendor and complimented me by saying “Madhavan, you have the authority of the District Collector”.

I thanked Mr Menezes for introducing me to Mr Sivakumar, Collector, Coimbatore District which enabled me to sort out many problems. With Mr Sivakumar help I got the measuring sets with the creameries and the vendors checked by the statutory authorities and most of them started using the correct and stamped measures! Making friendship with the district collector indeed paid!

Operations of Creameries

The creamery operators allowed only one person at a time to deliver milk at their milk collection centre. They didn’t want the person delivering milk to be seen by other suppliers.

A curtain (made of gunny bags) was hung for this purpose. The reason given was that this was to ward off the evil eye. I noticed this practice at all the creameries.

When I probed into the matter, what I discovered was far from true. The creamery operator was cheating the milk supplier (mostly ladies) by manipulating the cream separator which resulted in cream escaping into the separate milk and through defective measures.

Obviously, he didn’t want his malpractices to be noticed by other suppliers. Therefore, he was putting the curtain! When we started Anand Pattern cooperatives, the farmers insisted on putting such curtains.

We didn’t object to it and put the curtain. Gradually, we explained to the farmers why the curtain was being practiced at the creameries. We told them that curtain helped the creameries to exploit them and not because of evil eye. The farmers realised the foolery behind the curtain and gave it up in the cooperatives after some time! “When true education happens, superstition dies”.

When milk collection started dropping because of competition from the cooperatives, Nilgiri Dairy issued pamphlets to the farmers announcing increase in milk prices citing high cost of milk production as the reason! This Dairy has been in operation since 1905 and not even once had they issued such pamphlets on milk price. The pamphlets showed prices at different levels of fat %.

The Spearhead Team explained to the farmers the reason for issuing such pamphlets and that the prices shown were farce because they never tested the milk! The pamphlets also stated that the butyrometers had graduation up to 10 % only and how the cooperatives could claim that milk containing above 10 % will be paid higher prices.

Many milk samples when tested had fat above 10 % and the cooperatives paid higher prices. We explained to the farmers the technique to test milk samples with fat above 10 %. Citing the milk prices above 10 % by the cooperatives, Nilgiri Dairy cautioned the farmers that Guzaratukar was cheating the farmers and that they shouldn’t supply milk to the cooperatives. In the villages, Nilgiri Dairy was known as “Nilgiri Society”, a name deliberately given to sound a “Cooperative Society”.

The misconception got cleared with the organisation of Anand Pattern cooperatives. We told the farmers not to be misguided and that Nilgiri Dairy had become like a drowning man who will clutch even a straw to save his life!

Contributed by Dr. E. Madhavan, Former Regional Director NDDB , Mumbai