Rama Krishna Sangem
Dr M S Swaminathan, agriculture scientist who transformed India from a net importer of food grains to rank among the largest producers of wheat and rice, died early morning in Chennai on September 28, Thursday. He was 98.
Dr Swaminathan was awarded the first World Food Prize in 1987 following which he set up the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Taramani, Chennai. Swaminathan was conferred with the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan.
Dr Swaminathan is credited for the “Green Revolution” that pushed up India’s cereals production to unprecedented levels. While working with the government, Swaminathan served in various capacities across departments.
He was director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI, 1961-72), director general of ICAR and secretary to the Indian government, department of agricultural research and education (1972-79), principal secretary, ministry of agriculture (1979-80), acting deputy chairman and later member (science and agriculture), planning commission (1980-82) and director general, international rice research institute, the Philippines (1982-88).
The Green Revolution, which began 1965-66, was launched in response to rising population that saw per capita annual food grain production fall to 151 kilogram (kg) in 1965-66 and 1966-67 from almost 190 kg in 1961-62.
Architect of Green Revolution
The revolution revolved around five main pillars: strong research and development; price assurance to producers through a robust system of minimum support price; inter and intra year price stability through open market operations; maintenance of buffer stocks, and distribution of food grains through an effective public distribution system.
As India was planning to raise its food production, the International Maize and Wheat Research Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico, developed a semi-dwarf disease-resistant, high-yielding variety of wheat. A similar breakthrough in rice was made at the International Rice Research Institute in Philippines.
When Swaminathan was director of IARI, India was desperately looking to raise grain production. With the assistance of CIMMYT director and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, India quickly adopted high-yielding varieties of wheat and then later of rice. The entire northwest region of the Indo-Gangetic plains, comprising Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, with their robust irrigation systems and affinity for farming were picked as early adopters for the new yields.
The results were quick, successful and ably supported by a robust procurement mechanism.
In the triennium ending 1966-67 to 1971-72, India’s wheat production more than doubled from 11 million tonnes to 23 million tonnes. Rice production in the first five years of adoption of new yields increased by 30 per cent from 33 million tonnes to 42 million tonnes.
After the Green Revolution, India has never faced a serious food security threat though its population increased from 500 million in the beginning of 1966 to more than 1,120 million in 2010. In 2004, Swaminathan was appointed as chair of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) to look into farmer distress amid an alarming number of suicides.
The commission submitted its report in 2006 and suggested, among other things, that the Minimum Selling Price (MSP) should be at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production.
Played a role in fixing MSP
The NCF submitted four reports in December 2004, August 2005, December 2005 and April 2006. Its fifth and final report was submitted on October 4, 2006. The reports, which reviewed Indian agriculture, food and rural sector, provided elaborate reasons and explanations for the distress in farming.
The reports touched a wide gamut of issues that agriculture and food economy faced that included land reforms, irrigation, credit and insurance, productivity in agriculture, food security, prevention of farmers’ suicides, competitiveness in farming, employment and bio-resources.
The NCF recommended distributing surplus and waste land and setting up of a National Land Use Advisory Service to regulate the sale of agricultural land.
It said traditional rights of access to biodiversity should be preserved, which include access to non-timber forest products including medicinal plants, gums and resins, oil yielding plants and beneficial microorganisms.
About MSP, the commission did not specifically say which method should be taken for the calculation of this cost (either A2+FL or C2 or A2).
It also said that there should be improvement in implementation of MSP and arrangements for MSP need to be put in place for crops other than paddy and wheat. Reports said Swaminathan’s subsequent presentations and submissions to the government clarified that the average weighted cost over which 50 per cent should be guaranteed was ‘comprehensive cost or C2.
The agriculture scientist, in a presentation on ‘Doubling Farmers’ Income’ in November 2017, had said that MSP should be 50 per cent more than the comprehensive cost of production or C2.
Many recognitions, awards
He was also the recipient of the H K Firodia award, the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award and the Indira Gandhi Prize, apart from several international honours including the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1971) and the Albert Einstein World Science Award (1986).
Swaminathan is survived by three daughters, Soumya Swaminathan, Madhura Swaminathan, and Nitya Swaminathan. His wife Mina died in 2022.