Sudhir Kumar Singh, heads Vaishali Patliputra Dugdh Utpadak Sahkari Sangh Limited (Patna Dairy), which is known as Sudha Dairy in the capacity of Managing Director. He acquired his B.Tech. in Dairy Technology from National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal in 1981 and immediately joined Sudha Dairy on October 6, same year. In an exclusive interview with Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra, Special Correspondent of MSME Ecellence, Sudhir Kumar Singh provides with insight of the challenges and the milestones achieved in the history of Sudha Dairy since he began his journey there. In the last 38 years, he has strived to raise the bar of quality and quantity of milk and milk products in Sudha Dairy and simultaneously empowered rural women. He has given a total face-lift to the dairy industry in Bihar by nurturing a business which has grown from a turnover of INR 20 lakhs in the 80s to a INR 2,000 crores company today.
You have come a long way since your initial days of struggle and combating odds. Tell us about how you were able to manage this success story despite severe teething problems you had faced in the 80s era.
It all began when the Bihar government had announced the launch of Operation Flood amidst a very gloomy financial state of affairs for farmers who were commercially trading their milk to middlemen at distress prices. The state initiative helped us elevate our milk production and capacity to 1 lakh litres per day from a measly 6,000 litres per day in 1976. During that time we also faced with the burden of handling excess staff in the production process.
To be precise, we had a team strength of 456, whereas we required only 56 staff to manage the milk production. This happened to be an example of acute disguised unemployment.
Things started to take a turn for the better when the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) roped in Dr. Vergese Kurien, the father of White Revolution, to chair the Patna Dairy Project. Dr Kurien willingly complied and proposed conditions to ensure that there will be no political interference and the initiative will purely be a farmers’ cooperative movement to which the Bihar Government and the Board agreed. Kurien also resolved the overstaffing issue amicably by facilitating NDDB to absorb the excess employees. At that stage the state of Bihar faced infrastructural problems with frequent power shortages. Kurien was also instrumental in negotiating with the authorities for uninterrupted power supply to support the cooperative movement to prevent infrastructural hardships
Dr. Kurien subsequently established a profit-sharing model for the cooperative milk farmers which protected their financial and family interests. Kurien was backed to achieve this largely because the board readily agreed to his conditions and facilitated uninterrupted power supply by setting up a parallel electric supply line from the Governor’s house. This laid the strong foundation stones for the growth and subsequent expansion of Sudha Dairy.
Tell us about how you got associated with this Dairy and what immediate challenges you dealt with when your tenure began?
It was a campus encounter I had with Dr Kurien when I was studying in Karnataka that set this career path with Sudha Dairy into motion. Even around that time, people from Bihar preferred to migrate to other States and metro cities for employment opportunities and financial sustenance. However, I found Dr. Kurien’s approach forthcoming and planned to come back to my state to start my career in Dairy. I found the task at hand as a tailor-made opportunity for my aspirations. I held for myself and my state. When I joined, I was a technical officer and today I have managed to scale the ladder and assume leadership as a Managing Director which is satisfying, and it gives me immense pride.
The most challenging part was overcoming the reluctance of the villagers to switch from dealing with middlemen to participating in the dairy co-operative movement. To a large extent, the showcasing of a Hindi film “Manthan” facilitated us in shaping the thought culture of the villagers to think differently. When I started out, it was repeated visits and door-to-door calls to various village homes on my motorcycle with villagers indicating their weariness over my visits and the conversations I attempted with them. Subsequently, the villagers came to understand that the middlemen were cheating them of their dues and started joining in lots with the proposed cooperative movement.
We also started receiving guidance from Amul and were subsequently able to engage the farmers in cultivating their own fodder for cattle besides taking measures like vaccination and animal insemination.
Over a period of time we were able to establish the trust factor among the villagers and this went a long-way in our success story that ensured good financial returns to the farmers. This in turn enhanced the quality of milk and we were successful in curbing adulteration to a large extent. As things started picking up, we accelerated the movement by providing the farmers with subsidy on cattle rearing. Our through-out guidance and hand-holding of farmers proved to be an effective tool to make them productively participate in the cooperative movement. The farmers were able to learn to avoid excess fodder feeding and adopt animal insemination that yielded cross breeds and quality milk. In addition, we provided them with free vaccination for their livestock.
How did you connect with the villagers?
It was a process of gradual inducement that we had strategically planned. None of us used force or any compulsion. Apart from screening the Hindi film that was based on Dr. Kurien’s efforts and life, we kept encouraging them with the tag line “Try it out and see yourself.” This went a long way in helping us explain to them how different their lives will be without the middlemen and by directly participating in the cooperative movement. In the absence of any hotel or lodge arrangement, our staff used to live in temples, panchayats in the villages and this afforded them proximity to all the villagers. With much patience and friendly approach, we inculcated the business sense and know-how of rearing cattle’s turning them into entrepreneurs.
Inspired by late actress Smita Patil’s role in the film showcased to them, the women got transformed into an aspiring lot and were able to realize their dreams, when the monthly cash counters started pouring in. This enabled them to provide financial support to their families and settle them in their lives. Many of the second-generation children from these families have successfully completed their education and fulfilled their dream careers.
Can you tell us about any out-of-the-box thinking that went into the success of this movement?
Yes. In the initial stages we were faced with acute degrees of milk adulteration that posed serious quality issues. Instead of any punitive measures, we just decided to shut down the plant for a period of 20 days and this enabled us to stem the corruption that was prevalent in the system. We replaced the bottles with pouches on re-opening the plant and availed of the staff from NDDB, and other government institutions to manage further.
Our thinking was also compounded by Dr. Kurien’s effort to secure machinery from Maharastra Agro and Fruit Processing Corporation (MAFCO). With all such endeavours, I am proud to say that we have managed to scale the production from 500 litres per day to 3 lakh litres per day which spells the Bihar success story.
How is your family’s response to your passion?
I should say my family members have been very cooperative all along and till date continues to be my pillar of strength. As of today, it’s my wife who manages the farming of our inherited 200 acres farm land. All of us in the family understand that Sudha’s success story has played a major role in enhancing our quality of life and comforts. Even today, we are specific about not losing partnership with any farmers and there is no compromise on quality.
My kids are well settled, and they see Sudha as an integral part in their success as well. I appreciate my wife’s contribution in all this. As the MD of Sudha Dairy, I am of the firm belief that only when your team grows, you grow.