It is so heartening to see lush green fields of wheat, paddy, maize etc. But if there was not a phenomenon which had the power to create a 'food bowl', then it would not have been so hunky-dory. Called the father of Indian Green Revolution, MS Swaminathan is the pioneering force behind the change.
Beneath the soil of the verdant fields is a high-tech invention that changed not only Asia but the world. The seeds planted today by the farmers from Punjab to Pusan are nothing like those used by their ancestors. Without this phenomenon, the entire subcontinent of Asia would either have been either starving or enslaved to the outside world for food or financing. That turn of history, one of the truly astonishing transformations of the century, is now known as the Green Revolution.
Born on August 7, 1925 in South India, this godfather of the Green Revolution in India did his Ph D in genetics. He is modest about his own achievements but forthright about his work's impact on his native land and planet Earth. "Our history", he says, "changed from that time." Swaminathan had, since the beginning, thought that India should be free from the tutelage of importing food grains. An incident from childhood shows how self-reliance was seeped into him. His physician father was an ardent follower of Gandhi, and the young Swamiriathan was brought to a rally in which British cloth was burned. It was a lesson for life. Says Dr Swaminathan, "I believed I had to serve the nation". A1949 fellowship to study genetics in the Netherlands changed his career path. In 1952, he earned his Ph D from Cambridge University. He turned down an offer for professorship. "I asked myself, why did I study genetics? It was to produce enough food in India. So I came back".
India, at that time, was importing vast amounts of grain feed its teeming masses. He says that importing food was like importing unemployment because 70 percent of the Indians were involved in agriculture and importing means supporting farmers in other countries. By 1966, Swaminathan was Director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi, spending his time in fields with farmers trying to improve their productivity. Agriculture was in a very bad condition. Fertilizers were not being effective. When the wheat plant's pod grew more seeds, its stalk collapsed under the weight. With help from the Rockefeller Foundation, Swaminathan found a cross-bred wheat seed, part-Japanese and part-Mexican, that was both fruitful and staunch. He later bred this plant to an Indifoi variety to produce the golden-coloured grain favoured by Indians. This was a breakthrough in Green Revolution.
But a lot of work was still left. Indian farmers, immersed in traditional ways, had to be convinced to grow the new wheat. In 1966, Swaminathan set up 2,000 model farms in villages outside New Delhi to show farmers what his seed could do. Then came the hardest part. He needed government to help to import 18,000 tonne of the Mexican seed at a time of fiscal hardship. Swaminathan lobbied the Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Since famine was imminent, there was everywhere a willingness to take risks and so, Shastri agreed. The first harvest with new seeds was three times greater than the previous year. But the revolution was still incomplete. Only Punjab had the right of irrigation for the new technologies, the state-run food collection and distribution networks were inefficient and new fertilizers and pesticides were needed, along with credit lines for small farmers. Political leadership was vital to solve these problems and Shastri's successor, Indira Gandhi, bluntly asked Swaminathan that how could India be free of imports. She gave him a free hand to organize a new agricultural programme. Today, as a result of the Green Revolution, India grows some 70 million tonne of wheat a year, compared to 12 million tonne in the early 1960s.
Swaminathan ardently believes that farmers must adopt more eco-friendly methods. Although population continues to mushroom, he maintains that still greater harvests are possible. In his own words, he says, "all that is needed is inspiration, perspiration and luck". However, it would not be an anamoly to say that the greatest stroke of luck for hundreds of millions of Asians has been Swaminathan's revolution!