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Father of India’s Green Revolution - A Tribute to M.S Swaminathan

Sana Mohammed Monday, October 30, 2023
Father of India’s Green Revolution - A Tribute to M.S Swaminathan

“I have frequently pointed out that the future belongs to nations with grains and not guns” - this meaningful statement from M.S Swaminathan undoubtedly clarifies the significance of agriculture in the nations’ economy.

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, widely known as M.S Swaminathan, was the architect of green revolution in India. It was his valuable contributions that saved India and Pakistan from famines in 1960s. In fact, it will be a mistake if we try to speak about his contributions limiting it to India alone. He was a global leader of the green revolution. It was his active and dedicated role, innovative thoughts, farsightedness and foolproof agricultural policies that earned him the title as a global leader of the green revolution. His worldwide contributions and recognition are clear from the fact that he was one among the three Indians on the Time Magazine’s list of 20 most Influential Asians of the 20th century, the other two being Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindra Nath Tagore!

On 28th September 2023, this global leader passed away at the age of 98 - an unfortunate day and a big loss for all of us. Born on 7th August 1925, he was an agricultural scientist, an agronomist, geneticist, a humanitarian, international administrator – the titles and roles went on well with the name ‘M.S Swaminathan’. If anyone asks me to explain about him shortly, my straight answer would be - he was a passionate agriculturist who deeply understood and ardently supported the lives of farmers and thereby the whole of the humanity. While receiving the Magsaysay Award in 1971, he said “A hungry person listens neither to reason, nor to religion, nor is bent by any prayer.” To me, while he made the said statement, he was emphasizing that ‘hunger’ is a fundamental problem that cannot be reasoned well through any means, so the cure for ‘hunger’ requires highest attention.

Awards & Honors:

His contributions as the Director General of the International Rice Research Institute based in Philippines were immensely valuable that earned him the world’s highest honor in the field of agriculture, the World Food Prize in 1987. He was conferred with the Order of the Golden Heart of Philippians, Agricultural Merit of France, Golden Ark of Netherlands, Sahametrei of Cambodia, etc. The United Nations Environment Program awarded him the title the ‘Father of Economic Ecology’ considering his pioneering theories linking agriculture and economy through national and international policies.

In addition to the above recognitions, the international and national awards and honors that rightly came after him are numerous, of which few key awards and honors are:

•Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in 1961 for his notable and outstanding research contribution to the field of agriculture.

•Mendel Memorial Medal from the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1965.

•Padma Shri (1967), Padma Bhushan (1972), Padma Vibhushan (1989)

•Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 1971.

•Albert Einstein World Science Award in 1986 for his valuable contributions to the humanity through his scientific and technological researches.

•Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievements in 1991.

•Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace in 1999.

•Four Freedoms Medal in 2000.

•Lal Bahadur Sastri National Award in 2006.

Key Contributions:

M.S Swaminathan’s major contribution was the development of high yielding varieties of wheat and rice. These new variant crops were engineered in a manner that they were highly resistant to many external factors such as pests, diseases and adverse weathers. These crops laid the very foundation for the green revolution.

He played a key role in the development of world’s first high yielding basmati rice which made revolutionary changes in the agriculture. Also, he succeeded in developing rice crops with engineered capability for direct carbon fixation that increased the productivity considerably.

His research on potatoes resulted in the development of frost-resistant and high yielding potatoes. Also, his researches on the effect of radiation in cells contributed as a base to the Redox Biology, a branch that developed later.

He founded the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai, a center that provides dedicated services to develop sustainable agriculture for rural development. The Community Agrobiodiversity Center (CAbC) in Wayanad District of Kerala is a regional center of MSSRF. Since its formation in 1997, CAbC works in close coordination with the tribal and rural communities in Wayanad with the vision of achieving “An eco-sensitive self-reliant society empowered in conservation and sustainable & equitable utilization of biodiversity. The activities of CAbC are designed to promote a pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-woman and a pro-livelihood orientation to technology development and dissemination.” (courtesy to CAbC Wayanad website for this information).

Realizing the role of ‘public polices’ to effectively transform technology and scientific progress to enjoyable ‘income’ for our farmers, he was instrumental in making many effective and far reaching national and international polices that later became the back bone of the agricultural economy. He said “See, technology can advance yield and productivity, but only public policy can advance the income of farmers. There has to be a synergy between technology and public policy.” He further emphasized the role of able public policies by asserting “Agriculture can trigger job-led economic growth, provided it becomes intellectually satisfying and economically rewarding.”

During his tenure as the Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, he tabled a bill for the recognition of women farmers in India. Although, the bill lapsed, it served as a first step to many transformation in the later years.

M.S Swaminathan has lit the flame, and now it is all with us to take it higher. When he coined the term 'Evergreen Revolution' in 1990 to describe his vision of 'productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm', he has emphasized that it is a continuous process, a project that has no end. His visions and missions should continue to inspire us to address the challenges of our time. Let us all be reminded of his great statement “if agriculture goes wrong, nothing will have a chance to go right.”

Sana Mohammed
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