M S Swaminathan

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, known as M.S. Swaminathan, was born in August 1925 in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. He came from a family of physicians but chose to pursue a career in agriculture. He obtained his doctorate in Cytogenetics from Cambridge University. Upon returning to India, he joined the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi in 1949 as a geneticist and plant breeder.

Pioneering Work in Agriculture

In the 1960s, Swaminathan’s pioneering research on high-yielding wheat and rice varieties ushered in the Green Revolution in India. At a time when the country was facing acute food shortages, his work boosted wheat production from 12 million tonnes in 1965 to over 76 million tonnes in 2000. He served as Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) from 1972-1979 and led India’s agricultural research and development.

Swaminathan and his colleagues developed short-stemmed wheat varieties that were high yielding and resistant to diseases. This enabled the crop to effectively respond to irrigation and more intensive use of fertilizers and other inputs. He also promoted the system of agriculture extension to educate farmers on modern farming techniques.

Father of India’s Green Revolution

Owing to the remarkable increase in food production spurred by his efforts, Swaminathan is considered the father of India’s Green Revolution. His work enabled the country to achieve self-sufficiency in food production despite the challenges of a growing population, wars, and droughts. Swaminathan showed how scientific breakthroughs could be implemented to bring prosperity to resource-poor farmers. For this, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1971 and the inaugural World Food Prize in 1987.

Later Work and Advocacy

After retiring from his role in ICAR in 1979, Swaminathan continued to be actively involved in agricultural policy making and research. He founded the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai in 1988 which continues his legacy in sustainable agriculture and farmers’ welfare.

From 2004-2014, he served as the chairperson of the National Commission on Farmers. He advocated pro-farmer land reforms and sustainable farming practices that would be economically viable, ecologically sound and socially equitable. Swaminathan remained deeply committed to farmers till the very end.

Death and Recognition

Swaminathan passed away in September 2022 in Chennai at the age of 97. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that he will be posthumously honored with India’s highest civilian award – the Bharat Ratna – in recognition of his monumental contributions to Indian agriculture. Swaminathan will always be remembered as a visionary scientist whose work laid the foundation for modern Indian farming, rural prosperity, and national food security. His far-sighted innovations brought the Green Revolution home to India.

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