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MS Swaminathan, Renowned pioneer of India’s agricultural transformation, passes away at 98

MS Swaminathan, Renowned pioneer of India's agricultural transformation,  passes away at 98
MS Swaminathan

MS Swaminathan (Moncombe Sambasivan Swaminathan)Respected agronomist, and the iconic personality behind India’s agricultural revolution, passed away on September 28 in Chennai at the age of 98.

Widely recognized as the ‘Architect of the Green Revolution’, MS Swaminathan played a key role in the sweeping agricultural reforms initiated during the 1960s and 70s, which were instrumental in ensuring India’s food security.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, former chief scientist and deputy director general of WHO and daughter of MS Swaminathan, told ANI, “He was ill for the last few days… He passed away this morning… He passed away.” Firm in its commitment to the welfare of farmers and the upliftment of the most deprived in our society. On behalf of my family, I express my heartfelt gratitude to all who have expressed their condolences.

#WATCH | Dr Soumya Swaminathan, former Chief Scientist and former Deputy Director General at the WHO and daughter of MS Swaminathan, says, “…He was not keeping well for the last few days… His end came very peacefully this morning… Till the end, he was committed to the… https://t.co/n8B313Q2et pic.twitter.com/0BKDqqXbse

— ANI (@ANI) September 28, 2023

“I am confident that both my sisters and I will carry on the legacy established by our parents, especially as my father recognized the overlooked role of women in agriculture… He led many initiatives to empower women in farming During her tenure as a member of the Sixth Planning Commission, she ensured the inclusion of chapters on gender and environment for the first time. These are two achievements that filled her with immense pride,” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan.

In 1988, MS Swaminathan established the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), using the income from the prestigious first World Food Prize awarded to him in 1987. An official of the institute confirmed his death at around 11 pm.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote, “I am deeply saddened by the demise of Dr. MS Swaminathan ji. At a critical juncture in our country’s history, his unprecedented contribution to agriculture changed the lives of millions and was vital for our country.” Food security ensured.”

Deeply saddened by the demise of Dr. MS Swaminathan Ji. At a very critical period in our nation’s history, his groundbreaking work in agriculture transformed the lives of millions and ensured food security for our nation. pic.twitter.com/BjLxHtAjC4

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 28, 2023

Hailing from the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, he holds the distinction of being the inaugural winner of the World Food Prize for his important role in developing and propagating high-yield wheat and rice varieties in India during the 1960s, when the country Was struggling with crisis. Ominous fear of widespread famine.

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MS Swaminathan worked closely with late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to formulate agricultural policies.

In addition, he served as chairperson at various prestigious international conferences, including the United Nations World Food Congress held in Rome in 1974.

In January, the eminent personality’s daughter Dr. Soumya Swaminathan received her M.S. and Took over as Chairman. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). Prior to this appointment, he served as Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO) from 2019 to 2022.

MS Swaminathan’s catalytic role in accelerating the Green Revolution and ensuring India’s food security

MS Swaminathan played a key role in initiating the Green Revolution, which was a significant movement in addressing India’s food security challenges during that period. What were the challenges facing India at that time and how did it overcome them?

Starting his career as an administrator in the Indian Police Service (IPS), Swaminathan’s keen interest in agriculture eventually led him to delve into agricultural research.

Over the years, he has held various positions related to the agriculture sector both in India and abroad. His roles included serving as Independent President of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organization (1981–85), President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (1984–90), and President of the World Wide Fund for Nature (India). ) from 1989–96, and was, among others, Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Summary of MS Swaminathan’s Journey

In an interview published by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Swaminathan explained how when societal expectations turned towards him following in his father’s medical footsteps, he gravitated towards agriculture.

“It was during 1942, the time when Gandhiji started the Quit India Movement. In 1942-43, there was a famine in Bengal. Many of us as idealistic students at that time contemplated What can we do for an independent India?

“Due to the Bengal famine, I decided to study agriculture. Instead of pursuing a career in medical college, I focused my attention on agricultural college in Coimbatore.”

The Bengal Famine, which resulted in the loss of two to three million lives, was a man-made disaster, the result of British policies influenced by World War II by requisitioning grain from colonial territories to support its troops.

Swaminathan added, “I also chose to be involved in agricultural research, especially in genetics and breeding because an improved variety has the most significant impact. A good crop variety can benefit many farmers, regardless of their size.” Regardless. I was also impressed by the field of genetics as a whole.”

Swaminathan’s research journey took him to academic institutions in Europe and the United States. In 1954, he started research at the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack, where he worked on transferring genes for increased fertilizer response from japonica varieties to indica varieties.

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He described it as “an early attempt to cultivate high-yielding varieties capable of responding to favorable soil conditions and effective water management”.

This was needed because, after independence, Indian agriculture was struggling with low productivity. The consequences of colonial rule had left an indelible impact and the nation faced resource constraints in modernizing the region. As a result, staple crops had to be imported from countries such as the United States.

Swaminathan recalled how the Green Revolution, marked by the provision of high-yield seeds, adequate irrigation facilities, and fertilizers, brought a transformational change to Indian farmers, especially in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh.

“In 1947, when India gained independence, wheat production was about 6 million tonnes annually. By 1962, it increased to about 10 million tonnes per annum. Between 1964 and 1968, annual wheat production increased from about 10 million tonnes to about 17 million tonnes. million tonnes. This was a huge leap in production, rightly called a revolutionary step. This infusion of confidence was important because, during that time, reputed experts had ignored Indian farmers. External assessments painted a grim picture, showing that India was on the verge of food shortages. In 1966, a year plagued by severe drought, India imported 10 million tonnes of PL480 wheat.”

MS Swaminathan’s important contribution to the Green Revolution

Following his groundbreaking work on rice, Swaminathan and other scientists embarked on a similar journey to increase wheat crop productivity.

However, wheat presented a different challenge as they sought to obtain the norin dwarf gene from Norman Borlaug, an American scientist who was working on developing more productive crop varieties. Borlaug later received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for “offering a well-founded hope—a green revolution.”

Many researchers and scientists were engaged in this effort, but it was clear that Swaminathan’s strategic vision underpinned the Green Revolution in India – the introduction of new genetic strains or ‘plant types’ amenable to increased fertilizer and water application. of.

Traditional wheat and rice varieties were tall and thin, falling flat to the ground when mature and carrying heavy ears of grain due to high fertilizer use.

Swaminathan’s research on rice was aimed at reducing plant height to reduce habitat loss. However, this proved to be a difficult task.

“His approach of developing semi-dwarf wheat varieties through mutation, which involves subjecting plants to chemicals or radiation to induce desirable changes in their DNA, faced obstacles. Reduction in plant height as well as a reduction in the size of panicles that yield grains or earheads,” as previously reported by the media.

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The search for an ideal variety led them to reach out to American scientist Orville Vogel, who was instrumental in creating ‘dwarf wheat’ called Gaines, boasting high yield and incorporating dwarf genes from a wheat strain called Norin-10. While Vogel agreed, he was unsure about the adaptability of wheat to the Indian climate.

As a result, Vogel advised Swaminathan to contact Norman Borlaug, who had incorporated similar dwarf genes into his spring wheat varieties in Mexico, which were better suited to India. Borlaug’s last visit to India marked the beginning of the wheat breeding program proposed by Swaminathan at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

“We began a serious effort towards a dwarf wheat breeding program in 1963, and within five years, we witnessed what is known as the ‘wheat revolution.’ Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, celebrated this achievement. “Issued a special postage stamp for,” Swaminathan informed.

Unintended consequences of the green revolution

Despite its important role in achieving food self-sufficiency in India, the Green Revolution has faced scrutiny on several fronts. Criticisms include its preference for wealthier farmers, as it was introduced in states with high agricultural productivity.

Swaminathan had anticipated these issues as early as January 1968 when he addressed the Indian Science Congress in Varanasi. They cited “rapid replacement of many locally adapted varieties with one or two high-yielding strains in large contiguous areas,” “intensive land cultivation without preserving soil fertility, potentially leading to desertification,” and “pesticides highlighted the dangers of “indiscriminate use of fungicides”. , and herbicides,” and “unscientific exploitation of underground water.” Remarkably, these predictions have become reality in today’s context.

He also advocated the interests of farmers while serving as the head of the National Farmers Commission from 2004–06. In this capacity, he recommended that the minimum support price at which farmers sell their crops to the government should be at least 50 percent higher than the weighted average cost of production.

In recognition of his contributions, Swaminathan was honored as the inaugural World Food Prize Laureate in 1987. He was acclaimed for developing and introducing high-yielding wheat and rice varieties in India during the 1960s when the country faced the threat of famine. Widespread famine. Within a few years, wheat production doubled, making the country self-sufficient and saving millions of people from severe food shortages,” as mentioned in the quote.

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