Amul in America: Let’s take Indian cooperatives global

The move by the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation to introduce fresh branded Amul milk in the US could be an inflexion point to take other Indian cooperatives global.
The move by the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation to introduce fresh branded Amul milk in the US could be an inflexion point to take other Indian cooperatives global.


  • Globalizing Indian cooperatives requires policy support. We can learn from practices in countries where cooperatives have successfully globalized. Let’s start with a few by offering them a framework for that aim.

Last week, the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) announced a partnership with the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) under which branded Amul milk will be made available to thousands of Indians and Americans in the US. This is significant for many reasons.

One, even though Amul products are already being exported to about 50 countries, this is the first time that Amul’s branded fresh milk range is being launched anywhere outside India. Two, though this step is presently limited to the US, it has the potential to open the gates for the Amul brand in other regions and take it global. Three, it sets an aspirational template for other Indian cooperatives—which are largely regional or sub-national organizations—to bloom into global institutions. Indeed, in the last two decades, corporate India has seen global companies emerge, but that has not been the case with cooperatives. This is the time to change that.

History of India’s cooperative movement: Even before Independence and formal cooperative structures came into being through the passing of a law, cooperative activities were prevalent in several parts of India. For example, village communities would collectively pool resources after foodgrains were harvested to lend to needy members of the group before the next season’s harvest.

The Cooperative Societies Bill was enacted on 25 March 1904. On 14 December 1946, the Khera District Cooperative Milk Producers Milk Union, known as Amul, was registered. After India attained freedom in 1947, the cooperative movement received a shot in the arm, with it forming an important aspect of the Five-Year Plans.

On a visit to Anand, Gujarat, in October 1964, impressed by the socioeconomic transformation brought about by milk cooperatives, India’s then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri envisioned the setting up of a national-level organization, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), to replicate the Anand pattern of milk cooperatives throughout the country.

With the economic reforms of 1991, cooperatives came under intense pressure. But in a bid to give them more focus, the Union ministry of cooperation was created in July 2021 by carving it out from the ministry of agriculture. Presently, there are more than 850,000 cooperatives, with about 300 million members at national and state levels, covering scores of fields like dairy, agriculture, housing, credit, fisheries, handloom and sugar. Two of them, GCMMF and Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO), are among the world’s leading cooperatives.

Indian cooperatives, global reach: The move by GCMMF to introduce fresh branded Amul milk in the US could be an inflexion point to take other Indian cooperatives global. How can this be done? Taking a leaf out of the Amul chapter could be a useful and easy first step. The charismatic leadership of Verghese Kurien, the first and former chairman of GCMMF and the widely-acknowledged ‘father of India’s white revolution,’ was hugely instrumental in the success of Amul. The University of Michigan alumnus oversaw Amul for more than five decades and created a strong brand, partly through the ‘Amul girl’ mascot. While the longevity of his tenure was an important factor in his leadership, he was also able to get political support from the likes of Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai and Jawaharlal Nehru. By transforming India from a milk-deficient country to a surplus one (with a current 24% share of global milk production), he gained world recognition.

Although corporations are currently among the dominant forms of organization, cooperatives have flourished in a few other countries like Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada and Kenya. Learning from cooperatives in these countries and collaborating with them would be useful. Coincidentally, the United Nations has declared 2025 as the International Year of Cooperatives. Therefore, there is a special context for the globalization of India’s cooperative movement.

New Zealand has strong global cooperative organizations like Fonterra (for dairy), Walnut Cooperative and Zespri (for kiwi fruit). All of them are part of an umbrella organization called Cooperative Business NZ, which supports its member institutions to go global through workshops and activities for governance, marketing, technology support, advocacy and partnerships. It also conducts a programme to develop next-generation leadership for cooperatives so that these institutions have longevity. India could learn from such practices and partner with such organizations.

Finally, instead of trying to develop the entire cooperative sector together for global reach and recognition at one go, it would be useful to create a select group of champion cooperatives from different sectors. Currently, there are 19 national and state cooperatives in some 21 states and Union territories. Like the ‘navaratna’ concept for public sector enterprises, the government could select about 10-12 national and state cooperatives as global Indian cooperatives.

The journey is not going to be easy, but creating a framework for Indian cooperatives to go global would help in employment, wealth generation and thus overall national development.

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