Literary Review

Green revelations

Combating Hunger and Achieving Food Security; M.S. Swaminathan, Cambridge University Press, Rs. 574.  

M.S. Swaminathan, who pioneered efforts to promote agriculture in the post-Independence years, played a key role in ushering in the Green Revolution and has the same commitment to promoting the “ever green revolution.” As an agricultural scientist, he carried on pioneering research; as a team leader, he inspired research among a generation of young scientists; and as an ‘activist’ in its truest sense, he catalysed beyond measure policymaking on food security issues.

This book is a compilation of articles published earlier in journals and brought together thematically. There are 30 chapters on various subjects on agriculture. There are recurring themes: enhancing production, ensuring sustainability in an ecological context, food security, and hunger eradication. Most chapters of this book, in some form or other, carry the message: the need to remove hunger and provide food security to the masses.

His account of the “Yield Revolution” is modest and gives more credit to ministers and policymakers. He acknowledges the stellar role played by Norman Borlaug in introducing a high-yielding wheat variety.

Elsewhere, Swaminathan says, “Green Revolution was the product of convergence of technology, services, public policies and, above all, farmers’ enthusiasm.” In other chapters, he stresses on the need for involving farmers to take agriculture and productivity forward. This is so whether it is about introducing nutri-farms or for creating awareness about new crops, methods and programs.

For him, there is no food security without nutrition security. It is not only hunger that has to be removed; more importantly, it is ‘hidden hunger’ that needs to be eradicated. Several pages are devoted to defining the concept and suggesting ways to produce crops that have higher nutrients.

As he says, “Social protection measures should not only look at chronic and transient hunger, but also hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micronutrients like iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A and Vitamin B to name a few.” Sustainability in agricultural production and protection of ecology in bringing about sustainability are other recurring themes.

His attachment to and concern for preserving agricultural heritage are evocative. He describes with nostalgia the systems adopted in Kutanad and Koraput, which have sustained the regions for centuries. He is ready to graft elements from them to other places with similar conditions.

Several pages are devoted to the measures taken to provide food security, especially the passing of the National Food Security Act, in which he played a pivotal role. Even so, it is his regret that the Act does not go far enough.

It is the largest social protection measure in the world and cannot succeed without pan-political support and commitment. His anguish is, “There is no provision in the Act for this purpose.” He hopes that the establishment of a National Food Security Authority chaired by the Prime Minister with leaders of all major political parties may provide the political will to ensure that “chronic hunger becomes a problem of the past.” Since its passing, the National Food Security Act has met with rough weather from the World Trade Organization. Swaminathan makes no reference to these.

As a renowned scientist, one would have expected him to readily adopt latter-day genetically modified (GM) crops. His concern over ecological preservation has already been mentioned. He is willing to adopt GMs, subject to their meeting safety safeguards. He is in broad agreement with the views and recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee report on Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops: Prospects and Effects.

He is in favour of enacting a comprehensive law on bio-safety on the lines recommended by the Committee. Sadly, the public harbours doubts about the nature and capability of the regulating agencies. Swaminathan feels this can be resolved only by bridging the gap between scientists and the public. He exhorts the scientific community to master the science of scientific communication.

Drawn from an experience of over seven decades, the book is a delight not only for the manner in which it condenses his wisdom, but for the style in which it is conveyed.

Combating Hunger and Achieving Food Security; M.S. Swaminathan, Cambridge University Press, Rs. 574.

The writer is a retired Finance Ministry official who writes on economic issues.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 12:56:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/Green-revelations/article14028699.ece

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