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Father of Green Revolution, Dr M S Swaminathan passes away. Tribute

He transformed the country from a food-deficit nation to a food-surplus one in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Dr M S Swaminathan
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Explore the remarkable contributions of Dr M S Swaminathan, a renowned Indian scientist and agricultural expert to the field of agriculture and his lasting impact on food security in India.

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India has lost one of its most eminent agricultural scientists and visionaries, Dr M S Swaminathan, who passed away at the age of 98 in Chennai on Thursday, September 28, 2023. He was widely regarded as the father of India’s green revolution, which transformed the country from a food-deficit nation to a food-surplus one in the 1960s and 1970s.

Who was Dr M S Swaminathan?

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan was born in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, on August 7, 1925. He studied medicine at Madras University, but switched to agriculture after witnessing the devastating Bengal famine of 1943, which killed millions of people due to starvation and disease.

He obtained his PhD in genetics from Cambridge University in 1952 and joined the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) as a researcher. He worked on developing high-yielding varieties of wheat, rice, potato and jute, using methods of plant breeding and genetic engineering.

He also collaborated with Norman Borlaug, the Nobel laureate and father of the global green revolution, who introduced dwarf wheat varieties from Mexico to India. Swaminathan adapted these varieties to suit Indian conditions and helped distribute them to farmers across the country.

Dr M S Swaminathan
Dr M S Swaminathan Research Foundation

He also played a key role in establishing several agricultural research institutions in India, such as the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, the National Seed Corporation, the Central Rice Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute.

He served as the director general of IARI from 1966 to 1972 and later as the principal secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture from 1979 to 1980. He was also the founder and chairman of the Dr M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), a non-profit organization that works on sustainable agriculture and rural development.

He was honoured with several prestigious awards and titles for his contribution to agricultural science and policy, such as the Padma Shri, Padma Vibhushan, Ramon Magsaysay Award, World Food Prize, Indira Gandhi Prize and Bharat Ratna. He was also called the ‘Father of Economic Ecology’ by the United Nations Environment Programme.

What was his impact on India’s food security?

Dr Swaminathan’s work on developing high-yielding varieties of crops was instrumental in ushering in the green revolution in India, which increased the country’s food production manifold in a short span of time.

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), India’s wheat production increased from 11 million tonnes in 1960-61 to 55 million tonnes in 1978-79. Similarly, rice production increased from 35 million tonnes in 1960-61 to 74 million tonnes in 1978-79.

The green revolution not only helped India achieve self-sufficiency in food grains, but also enabled it to export surplus food to other countries. It also improved the income and livelihoods of millions of farmers and reduced poverty and malnutrition in rural areas.

Dr Swaminathan’s vision of sustainable agriculture also influenced India’s policies on biodiversity conservation, seed security, organic farming, biofortification and climate change adaptation. He advocated for an ‘evergreen revolution’, which would enhance productivity without harming the environment or depleting natural resources.

He also championed the cause of women empowerment and social justice in agriculture. He promoted participatory research and extension methods that involved farmers, especially women, in decision-making and innovation processes. He also supported land reforms and farmers’ rights to access seeds, credit, markets and information.

How will he be remembered?

Dr Swaminathan will be remembered as a pioneer and leader of India’s agricultural transformation and food security. His legacy will continue to inspire generations of scientists, policymakers, activists and farmers who work for a more equitable and sustainable world.

He will also be remembered as a humble and compassionate human being who dedicated his life to serving humanity. His motto was “Science for Society” and his mission was “To leave this world better than you found it”.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his condolence message, “Dr M S Swaminathan will be remembered as someone who made a monumental contribution towards mitigating hunger not only in India but across many nations. His passion towards agriculture research benefitted millions.”

As we pay tribute to this great son of India, let us also pledge to follow his footsteps and work for a hunger-free and prosperous future for all.

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