02 Aug 2022  |   06:54am IST

Can we change our world?

Eugenio Viassa Monteiro

In my professional life, with an interest in writing “cases” on diversified realities, I found, amazed, how persons, determined to put into practice the ideas they believed in, can thrive and transform the whole society. In a peaceful environment, high-quality people can write new chapters of history, transforming the eco-system of poverty and misery into one of the abundances of wealth and jobs. See how, with these real-life bright examples:

1. One is the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF), Anand, with one of the first cooperatives in 1946, which today sheds 3.6 million small farmers. The GCMMF sell processed milk and the whole range of derivatives. It had a turnover of $5.8 bn last year. 

The most interesting is the replication of the model through the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), presided by Dr Kurien. Now, around 100 million families in India can count on the flow of earnings from the sales to the local cooperative. Dr Kurien joined the Cooperative in 1949, and was its President for a long period; he defined its main policies: putting the cooperators at the centre and paying the best possible for the milk they brought.

2. Different thing came from Dr Venkataswami (Dr V), from Madurai. He saw a number of people blind to cataracts. As an ophthalmologist, he knew that a simple surgery to replace the opaque retina with an artificial intraocular lens, IOL, is a very cheap and effective solution, to give back vision.

In 1978, when retired from the public hospital at 58 years (the norm in India), he decided to put a Clinical with 11 beds, for Eye Care. He invited his sister and brother-in-law, both ophthalmologists and surgeons, to work with him. The Clinical was a success and he put another with 30 beds for poor people, who can’t pay.

With a bank loan, he put up a huge Hospital from scratch, where he established that 40% would pay the bill, and the remaining 60% would not pay. And still with this “disproportion” it is profitable, covering all the expenses. How is it?

He designed an efficient system, with high professionalism and care: each medical doctor is assisted by 4 nurses, two for preparing the patient and helping the doctor, and 2 others for giving all the instructions post-surgery. Thus, the continuous flow of patients, in and out, keeps the doctor busy, doing his job serenely with full concentration. Today, Aravind has 14 Hospitals and 91 Vision centres. In 2019-20, 4.6 million patients were examined, and 515,000 cataract surgeries were done.

3. I was lucky to contact the Grameen Bank, of microcredits, with a great presence in East Asian countries. The concept was later more elaborated and alleviates the poverty of millions. There are huge numbers of Self-Help-Groups, with 10 to 20 ladies each, under the leadership of one, who recur to loans for the group. Thus the amount of the loan is bigger and the risk is less, because of the diversity of activities. These ideas went fast in America, Brazil, Asia, etc. The micro-loans are payable in small instalments during the year and do not demand collaterals. 

4. More recently I entered in touch with Sahyadri Farms, based in Nashik. One farmer, alone, is usually exploited by the middle-man who buys at a low price to sell with a high margin. If the farmer is associated with others, well-coordinated processing and selling to retail chains or exporting, allows get better prices, to pay what is fair and just to each farmer.

This Farmers Producers Organisation (FPO), incepted in 2010 is growing fast to the point that in 2020-21 it sold $76 million, with 50% exported, mainly to the EU. What do they export? Grapes without seed, produced in India from January to June (in Europe, from September to November), tomato-fresh and concentrate, mango and concentrate, papaya, pomegranate, onions, a variety of vegetables, etc.

Sahyadri Farms counts today on 15,400 marginal farmers with small lands they cultivate and sell at a much better price than the guaranteed price by the local mandis. Now, the farmers cultivate according to the propensity of the soil, and especially what gives better earnings, is exportable or prone to sell to the huge retail chains and retail points. 

5. A phenomenon very alike, near Nashik at 40 km distance: a wine producer, branded SULA, is prospering. Around it, hundreds of hectares of vineyards, of different castes and varieties, are in full production.

I feel it is high time for business-oriented people to find and develop bright opportunities in agriculture or agri-business, capable to employ thousands of people, giving them good training for basic functions but also for managing, organising activities and establishing applied R&D centres.

In poor environments, people with initiative, ideas and some money to invest in Cooperatives, FPOs and Associations can make a great job. In Anand, there were lots of poor who now live well, and their children study at University or in IITs. Or like SahyadriFarms where export is the current word and the marginal farmers now more than doubled their earnings. Or like Aravind, putting efficient/accessible Centres to detect and treat hypertension, or for the early detection of the most frequent cancers.

This seems the secret: fostering more Cooperatives in each of the States; promoting thousands of FPOs, replicating the good experiences, with full-time managers, dedicated and thinking on how to well serve the social poor strata. That is precisely what Lal Bahadur Shastri, PM, did when he visited Anand, to meet Kurien, in 1964. He established the NDDB and appointed Kurien as its President to replicate milk Cooperatives in the country, like AMUL, which he did successfully. 

The faster and better this is done, the more people can catch the opportunity to improve the standard of living of their whole family.

(The author is professor at AESE-Business School, Lisbon)


Idhar Udhar