The White Revolution was triggered by a milk shortage of India which forced the country to import milk. Cooperatives were formed after the Second World War, and in 1971, the Operation Flood Programme was launched. This was one of the world’s biggest agricultural development programmes, operating for 26 years. Ten million farmers became members of some 73,000 dairy cooperatives.
In the 1990s, exports and imports balanced. From 2001, India has been a net exporter of dairy products. Since 2003, imports have fallen while exports have rocketed – but it still only represents a small percentage of total production.
The private sector (in India and internationally) has increased its share of the dairy industry. Recent changes in the law have also made it possible to convert cooperatives into private companies.
The presence of private interests in the dairy industry is new, since the dairy industry was previously a protected sector. Inconsequence, the vast majority of union members in dairy companies are employed by cooperatives.
The private sector differs from the cooperative sector in that it is not bound by any social objectives such as rural development, food safety (a reasonable price on milk) and the fight against poverty. India now wants to double its milk production by 2020.
In 2006, the IUF launched the idea of forming a trade union federation for the Indian dairy sector. Several meetings were held. In June 2009, the DEFOI (Dairy Employees’ Federation of India) was registered, with the aim of protecting dairy workers’ rights regardless of party affiliation. The DEFOI has also started a campaign to save the cooperatives.
By Gunnar Brulin and Malin Klingzell-Brulin