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Operation Flood: An Analysis or Casual Discussion?

India's White Revolution: Operation Flood, Food Aid and Development by Bruce A Scholten (New York: I B Tauris Publishers); pp xv + 307, Rs 1,995.

BOOK REVIEW

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Operation Flood: An Analysis or Casual Discussion?

Shanti George

T
he flood of words that constitutes the book under review washes between vast global generalisations and specific references to India. It does not easily fit the description of “research” as a systematic body of argument and evidence, presented within clearly defined parameters.

Assorted Anecdotes

Embarking upon Chapter one, the reader is deluged by assorted anecdotes, invocations of colourful personalities, disjointed accounts of how one type of dairy cooperative emerged in western India – all apparently intended to enlighten the reader about the origins of the “white revolution” or “Operation Flood”. This ambitious and controversial dairy development programme in India spanned more than two decades at the end of the 20th century. It sought to revolutionise milk production and marketing in India with large-scale introduction of western technology, and financed its operations through the sale to urban Indians of the European Union’s (EU) surplus “butter mountains” and “dairy lakes” that were donated to India. Milk was reconstituted by mixing the EU’s skimmed milk powder and butter oil with locally produced Indian milk procured through rural dairy cooperatives. The reconstituted milk was sold to consumers in metropolitan and

India’s White Revolution: Operation Flood, Food Aid and Development by Bruce A Scholten (New York: I B Tauris Publishers); pp xv + 307, Rs 1,995.

large cities, and the funds generated were invested in a national milch herd of highyielding crossbred cows and upgraded milch buffaloes, and in a national milk grid of cooperative rural dairies and feeder balancing plants that supply urban outlets through dairy tankers carrying chilled milk.

Chapters two and three claim to sketch the broad background of the project in terms of free trade and protectionism, beginning with “the dozen or so millennia since our ancestors turned from huntinggathering to agriculture” (p 33) and ending with current sales of African farmland to Chinese investors (p 119). Almost halfway through the main text, Chapter four on food aid and dairy aid finally appears to link more directly to the title and presumed focus of the book, but yields 20 pages of scattershot references to academic literature and experiences from around the world, with occasional discussion of the Indian case.

Focus on Gujarat

The final two chapters are “Data on India and Comparators” (i e, a comparison of a group of countries) and “Three Phases of -

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Flood”. The text too concentrates on Gujarat state and especially on Kheda district and mainly on Anand taluka. The rest of the country is treated as a canvas on which the type of dairy cooperative developed in Kheda and Anand was to be replicated, and also as the canvas whereupon the Operation Flood programme devised at the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) located at Anand was extended to the entire country. Scholten hopes that Operation Flood will now be replicated in other Asian and African countries, as apparently does the World Bank and some others (pp 254-55).

Personal Criticisms

The evidence in this book draws heavily on interviews with the former chairman of the NDDB and on his anecdotes. The present reviewer’s faith in these dramatic anecdotes is undermined by the fact that one of them describes her apologising humbly to the chairman for her extensive criticisms of Operation Flood (p 30). It is demonstrably untrue, because she was nowhere near Anand at the time that the supposed apology is said to have taken place. When this baseless anecdote was exposed in this magazine (EPW, 29 January 2011), Scholten’s reply (EPW, 19 March 2011) simply said that the “denial” would be recorded in the second edition of the book. Such a response is more typical of journalism than of research.

Scholten refers scathingly to the “yellow journalism” that criticised Operation Flood (p 227). Perhaps his book can be described as a “yellow research”, using as it does the tactics and style associated with “yellow journalism” rather

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
july 30, 2011 vol xlvi no 31

BOOK REVIEW

than the careful citation and checking of counterclaims, we need clear and integrated facts that is generally considered re-answers to issues like the method of foreign

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search. Scholten’s strong emphasis on personalities (rather than on situations in the field or on the diverse forms that dairy development strategies take in real life contexts) heightens the likeness to yellow journalism.

Irrelevant Matters

In addition to anecdotes, the book puts forward various graphs and pie charts in Chapter five that purport to demonstrate Operation Flood’s success in stimulating milk production in India, in comparison with specific developing countries. The initial list names Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, but also mentions Turkey, South Korea and China, and later on in the chapter extends to (in alphabetical order) Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Peru, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, the former USSR, Vanuato and others, including countries in North America and Europe.

The discussion rambles equally widely, including references – without any clear relevance to dairying – to “the political purges that followed the demise of socialist Indonesian leader Sukarno” (p 146) and how “NATO bombed Serb targets in Yugoslavia” (p 161). In the absence of a coherent and focused comparison, the point by point querying or refutation or modulated agreement that is required would generate an equally long “counter book”.

Conclusions

As argued above, the book scatters rather than sharpens the debate, focuses on personalities instead of analysis and takes discussion backward, not forward. What might a forward looking assessment of Operation Flood look like, rather than one that appears stuck in the 1990s? A possible outline is provided by a letter on the subject in this magazine:

Operation Flood…has had a variegated impact on dairy development, both positive and negative. As a programme, it had multiple goals and a relatively complex set of intervening mechanisms… Overall, one could say there is a mixed verdict on OF and, aid use, role of the cooperatives and technology used, and the socio-economic impact on the community…without a comprehensive framework of evaluation touching upon the political economy of the programme in all its institutional, social and economic dimensions a clear assessment would be elusive… Hence, the way forward could be on two possible lines. Besides taking up a few new studies focusing on some key areas with the right kind of questions, one may attempt a possible meta-synthesis drawing upon the previous and the new studies… (H S Shylendra, EPW, 5 March 2011, pp 4-5).

The letter argues that “a comprehensive and an objective framework of study becomes absolutely necessary lest some of the past confusions are compounded further” (ibid: 5). Scholten’s book is neither comprehensive nor objective, and indeed, compounds past confusions. Any attempt to “replicate” Operation Flood in other developing countries surely should need a sound assessment of Operation Flood on its home ground. Scholten mentions China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Kyrghyzstan, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with some African countries joining to form the East and Southern African Dairy Development Association (pp 29, 255).

Scholten’s book, which is published as part of an academic studies series, and has the academic trappings of some 30 pages of notes and a 15 page bibliography in addition to charts and maps and tables, may give the misleading impression to dairy officials in African and Asian countries that it represents a careful assessment. The false impression given by the book that major criticisms have been fully addressed and neutralised is particularly dangerous. The “happy ending” to the Operation Flood story as presented by Scholten – whereby critics supposedly saw the error of their assertions and the designers of Operation Flood learned from criticism – is not supported by strong arguments or evidence in this book.

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given its sheer size and nature, a better clar-Shanti George (shanti.research@gmail.com) ity and judgment is needed to make any final is an independent researcher based judgment on it… despite several claims and in the Hague Area, The Netherlands.

july 30, 2011 vol xlvi no 31

EPW
Economic Political Weekly

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