Remembering a giant of the Green Revolution

Dr. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan leaves a global legacy of commitment to agricultural research and sustainable development

In the wake of his recent death at the grand age of 98, the New York Times obituary for Professor MS Swaminathan labelled him the “scientist who helped conquer famine in India”. As someone fortunate enough to have met Prof Swaminathan during my own time as Chief Scientific Officer at global food security research partnership CGIAR, and been influenced by his early scientific work, I can vouch for the enormous impact he had during his long career.

That work has become synonymous with the Green Revolution, which saw technology transfer initiatives hugely increase crop yields and agricultural production globally during the 20th century. Prof Swaminathan and equally brilliant colleagues like Norman Borlaug and Gordon Conway saw that progress could only come if they worked hand-in-hand with farmers and policymakers to develop solutions at scale.

His work saw rice yields increase more in four years with the adoption of high yielding semi-dwarf varieties than they had done in the previous 4,000 years. The fact that India, despite rapid population growth, was able to move from a large annual food deficit to a food surplus and the creation of one of the world’s largest rice export markets, is widely credited to his influence and efforts. He was central to persuading the Indian government to liberalise wheat production and import improved seed varieties. As a result, wheat yields tripled in a decade.

This prodigious output, that garnered global recognition particularly in the 1980s, is still an excellent reminder of what can be achieved in the intersection between cutting edge scientific research, forward-thinking government policymaking and the input of business and local communities – the so-called ‘Green Quadruple Helix’. Prof Swaminathan showed clearly, that in the face of global grand challenges – whether food security or the climate and energy crises now – we can make seismic progress in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems. The key is to research, innovate and then collaborate.

SRUC’s aim is to build on the legacy that pioneering scientists like Professor Swaminathan shaped in agriculture. So many of his students and successors – myself included – see the transformative potential of research, targeted investment and entrepreneurship in our natural economy as the key to unlock change on a par with the last century’s Green Revolution. Swaminathan showed the way.  He will be greatly missed by the global scientific community.

Prof Wayne Powell
Principal & CEO

Posted by Wayne Powell on 09/10/2023

Tags: Agriculture, Diversification
Categories: Natural Economy | Sustainability | Research | Soil and Crops