M.S. Swaminathan’s Genetic Engineering Unleashed India’s Green Revolution

Highlights

M.S. Swaminathan or Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan was born on August 7, 1925 in the region of Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. His father, Dr. M.K. Sambasivan was a surgeon by profession.Great Bengal Famine where he saw the plight of Indians starving for food. He wanted to make a difference, so he decided to make the switch from the field of medicine to agriculture.In 1947, he joined Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi as a post-graduate student and learned about genetics and plant breeding. He later became a UNESCO fellow, researching on potato genetics at Wageningen Agricultural University, InstituSwaminathan educated farmers to adopt these new methods overlapping the barriers of illiteracy and lack of formal education. Due to his efforts, the average crop yield of 12 million tons spiked to 23 million tons in just a matter of four crop seasons.

India is a farming nation. In rural areas, a majority of the population survives on farming. And this has not only enabled us to feed our stomachs but in some cases also export food to the world.

According to IBEF, India is among the 15 leading exporters of agricultural products in the world. Moreover, agricultural exports from India reached US$ 38.54 billion in 2019 and US$ 28.93 billion in 2020 (until January 2020).

So clearly, it is a considerable chunk for India. However, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, there was a time when India was suffering from famines and yields so low, that the nation was forced to import food from other nations. All this changed, due to the Green Revolution in India, and it’s all thanks to M.S Swaminathan — the father of Indian Green Revolution.

 

Hailing from Tamil Nadu

M.S. Swaminathan or Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan was born on August 7, 1925 in the region of Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. His father, Dr. M.K. Sambasivan was a surgeon by profession. After completing his basic schooling, he decided to enter the field of medicine,

He eventually went ahead to complete his graduation in the field of biology at Maharaja’s College in Trivandrum in Kerala and earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Zoology.

However at the same time — around 1943 — he witnessed the Great Bengal Famine where he saw the plight of Indians starving for food. He wanted to make a difference, so he decided to make the switch from the field of medicine to agriculture. He enrolled in Madras Agricultural College and completed another graduate degree, this time in Agricultural Science.

Stepping out of India for academics

In 1947, he joined Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi as a post-graduate student and learned about genetics and plant breeding. He later became a UNESCO fellow, researching on potato genetics at Wageningen Agricultural University, Institute of Genetics in the Netherlands. He learned how to transfer genes from wild species of Solanum to the cultivated potato species Solanum tuberosum.

In the year 1950, he was a part of the Cambridge School of Agriculture where he earned his doctorate in Philosophy. He later accepted a post doctoral research associateship with the University of Wisconsin, Department of Genetics where he helped in setting up of a USDA potato research station. Here he was also offered a full-time faculty, which he gracefully declined, to come back to India in 1954.

The Green Revolution

In India, he put his learnings into practice and started to teach Indian farmers to effectively increase the production of their yield with the help of high-yielding wheat varieties, fertilisers and advanced farming techniques that put less strain on farmers

In 1960, he collaborated with Norman Borlaug and other scientists to develop HYV or High Yielding Variety seeds of Wheat which he encouraged farmers around the nation to adopt. In the year 1965, Swaminathan set up thousands of demonstrations in the northern part of our nation to show small-scale farmers how genetically modified grains can help grow better yields in the same fields. This was game-changing as in the first year, the harvest tripled previous production levels.

Swaminathan educated farmers to adopt these new methods overlapping the barriers of illiteracy and lack of formal education. Due to his efforts, the average crop yield of 12 million tons spiked to 23 million tons in just a matter of four crop seasons.

Swaminathan later collaborated with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to establish agricultural policies and programmes to help the nation stay self-sufficient in the field of agriculture for years to come.

Swaminathan was the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture in 1979-1980. Before this, he served as the Director-General of Indian Council of Agricultural research from 1972-1979. He has also been a part of the Planning Commission — in charge of agriculture and rural development from 1980 to 1982.

Awards and achievements

For his efforts in solving the problem of hunger in India, he was awarded Padma Shri in the year 1967, followed by a Padma Bhushan in 1972 and Padma Vibhushan in the year 1989.

Swaminathan is the recipient of the World Food Prize of 1987. He has also been made president of the Pugwash Conferences on science and world affairs.

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top