Known as the Father of India’s Green Revolution, renowned agricultural scientist Dr. M. S Swaminathan passed away at his residence in Chennai on Thursday, following age-related issues. The 98-year-old is survived by three daughters.
From leading India’s Green Revolution to pushing for recognition for India’s women farmers, here’s a timeline of eminent agriculturist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan’s illustrious life.
August 7, 1925: Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan was born to M.K. Sambasivan, a surgeon, and Parvati Thangammal in Kumbakonam in the then Madras Presidency.
1940s: After completing his matriculation from Kumbakonam’s Catholic Little Flower High School, Swaminathan pursued a higher education in zoology from Maharaja’s College in Trivandrum. With a keen interest in agriculture, farming and moved by the plight of the farmers, he later completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Science from University of Madras in 1944.
1947-1949: Having witnessed the Bengal famine of 1943, Swaminathan dedicated his life for improving India’s farming methods to battle food shortage. After Independence, Swaminathan joined the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi to focus on plant genetics and breeding. He further specialised in cytogenetics to help crop improvement, gaining a post-graduate degree in it.
1949-1954: Swaminathan — who had by then specialised in the genus Solanum of the potato — was offered an eight-month fellowship in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to research ways to combat parasite affecting potato crops – which were then in high demand. He succeeded in preventing infestations in crops and also enabled them to withstand cold weather.
He then moved to University of Cambridge’s School of Agriculture to study at the Plant Breeding Institute for his Doctoral study. After earning his PhD, he then spent fifteen months in the Laboratory of Genetics in the University of Wisconsin to set up the US government’s potato research station as part of his post-doctoral research. A year later, he completed his research and moved back home to India, rejoining the IARI.
1954: As an IARI scientist, he learnt of Dr. Norman Borlaug’s newly developed Mexican dwarf wheat variety which could higher levels of grain and develop stronger stalk structures to support the increased biomass. Both scientists worked to produce improved crop varieties in India. To empower the Indian farmers with the latest farming technology, Dr. Swaminathan researched on fertilizers conducive to the Indian soil for growing wheat, different high-yielding wheat varieties, and efficient farming techniques.
1965-70: Continuing his research with Dr. Borlaug on wheat varieties, Dr. Swaminathan modified grains in the laboratories to better suit the Indian soil, giving higher yield and free of infestation. He then convinced farmers mainly in India’s rural northern belt – Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh to set up small demonstration and test plots to cultivate these genetically modified wheat varieties.
Working with the Union Agriculture Ministers C. Subramaniam and Jagjivan Ram, Dr. Swaminathan pioneered the Green Revolution, tripling wheat harvest in the first year itself. In total, wheat harvest jumped from 12 million to 23 million in four crop seasons Apart from higher yields, Dr. Swaminathan’s work with the farmers ushered India’s golden age in farming technology – transforming the nation from a ‘begging bowl’ to the ‘bread basket of the world’.
As the Green revolution spread across India, farmers across the nation began employing better irrigation methods, cross-breeding in wheat crops and using higher quality of fertilisers, making India self-sufficient and ending its dependency on grain imports. During his tenure at IARI, he set up the Nuclear Research Laboratory and its Genetics division which did ground-breaking research on in effects of radiation on plants cells and organisms and the mutations created thereby.
1979-1982: Appointed as the director-general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Dr. Swaminathan worked to educate farmers on weather and crop patterns by setting up thousands of ICAR centres across India. Under the Indira Gandhi government, Dr. Swaminathan was appointed as the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture in 1979-80 to establish agricultural policies to maintain India’s long-term food sufficiency. From 1980-1982, he was made in charge of agriculture and rural development in India’s Planning Commission during which he included environment and women as a focus area for development under India’s five-year plan.
In 1982, he became Director General of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines – the first Asian to hold the post – and worked to promote participation of women farmers on rice cultivation.
1987-2000: For his contributions, he was awarded the first World Food Prize in 1987. Using the award money, he set up the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai in 1988 to provide a collaborative platform for global leaders, rural farmers to coordinate research on issues such as micro-level farming, ecotechnology. The foundation also works to impart technical training to the farming community on low-cost methods to ensure food security.
2002: He was elected as President of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on science and world affairs – another first for a citizen from a developing nation. During his tenure, he pushed for reduced armed conflict and tackle global hunger arising due to such conflicts.
2004: Back at home, in 2004, during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s tenure, he was made chair of the National Commission on Farmers which was constituted to address rising farmer suicides in India. Under his leadership, four reports were published recommending an overhaul of the National Policy for Farmers. His reports recommended several reforms such as increased rural credit to farmers, increase investment in Agricultural research, measures to attract and retain youth in farming etc. Farmers across the nation still demand the implementation of the reports’ recommendations.
2005: Joining the United Nations Millennium Project’s Hunger Task Force, he developed targets to reduce poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women in the next decade.
2007-13: After being nominated by then-President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to the Rajya Sabha in 2007, he presented the Women Farmers’ Entitlements Bill 2011 to increase women’s role in farming due to the gradual migration of male farmers to cities in search of employment. His bill sought to address concerns of women farmers regarding land titles, access to credit, insurance, technology and consumer markets. Introduced as a Private members’ bill in 2012, it lapsed in 2013.
2013 onwards: After his political career, Dr. Swaminathan has been part of various initiatives such focused on nutrition, access to internet in rural India etc. He has also been instrumental in setting up several agricultural institutes in China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran, and Cambodia.
Through his life, he has received multiple international accolades like - the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1971, the Albert Einstein World Science Award in 1986, UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize in 1994, UNESCO Gandhi Gold Medal in 1999, Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development in 1999, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award in 2000 to name a few.
In India, he has received national awards like the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award, and the Indira Gandhi Prize all three civilian awards- Padma Shri in 1967, Padma Bhushan in 1972, and Padma Vibhushan in 1989. He has been conferred upon over 80 honorary doctorates from universities across the world and multiple civilian awards from nations like Philippines, France, Cambodia, China. He is also a fellow in several scientific academies in Russia, Sweden, United States, United Kingdom, Italy, China, Bangladesh.