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Green Jubilee for agricultural research
It looks like it was yesterday, but a full 25 years have gone by.

I am talking about Dr. M S Swaminathan launching the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) at a modest rented premises at Kotturpuram in Chennai.  

Swaminathan was born and brought up at Kumbakonam where his father, Dr. M S Sambasivan was a prominent public figure (the good doctor also served as municipal chairman, Kumbakonam). MSS pursued higher studies at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural College at Coimbatore. But, his service years were spent at Delhi at the Agriculture Research Institute of ICAR at Pusa where he worked on genetic modifications of wheat and was closely associated with the green revolution and at the Agriculture Ministry.

I remember Swaminathan mentioning his preparing the blueprint for the green revolution in the early 1960s. With C Subramaniam taking charge as the Union Minister of Agriculture in the Lal Bahadur Shastri government, the focus on agricultural research, combined with efficient administration and policy backup, triggered the green revolution.


At the helm of agri-policy making...

Swaminathan was actively involved in delineating agriculture policy and was at the helm of affairs when India turned from a net importer to an exporter of food grains. In the 1970s, he functioned as Secretary in-charge of agricultural research and actively promoted agriculture research through the dozens of ICAR labs. Later, he shifted to Manila as the Director of International Rice Research Institute.

It was Chennai’s good fortune that Swaminathan decided to establish the research foundation in this city. With his suave nature, he was close to both the DMK and the AIADMK administrations. With his reputation spread far and wide, he organised visits of top scientists and administrators in the food and agriculture sectors from across the globe. These included the renowned Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution in the world, chairmen, presidents and other senior dignitaries from global bodies like the Food and Agricultural Organisation. Chennai never had it so good with receiving and hearing a galaxy of international experts involved with food and agriculture.

 

He chaired IEBEA committees...

IE has had the good fortune of close association with Swaminathan. When IE launched, as part of its silver jubilee celebrations, the annual IE Business Excellence Award for a southern corporate, Swaminathan readily agreed to be the chairman of the awards committee. The committee had seven illustrious members including academics, bankers, senior business leaders, public figures and professionals. Swaminathan led the Committee with élan.  The awards used to be presented at glittering annual functions where renowned leaders delivered the annual lecture. The dignitaries included former President R Venkataraman, Bharat Ratna C Subramaniam, Dr Verghese Kurien, Dr Manmohan Singh, Mr M S Ahluwalia, Maurice Strong from the United Nations, former Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, among others. Swaminathan chaired these annual meetings and also helped IE host the follow up dinners for the selected awardees at the Madras Club.

When tsunami struck Tamil Nadu in 2005, the foundation, with its extensive grass roots, was entrusted with the task of providing rehabilitation for the tsunami affected. The integrity and the renown of Swaminathan were utilised by a number of donor organisations. His wife, Mina Swaminathan, provided leadership for strengthening the women empowerment programmes of the foundation. The state government utilised the expertise of Swaminathan by inviting him to be the Deputy Chairman of State Planning Commission. The Central government nominated him a member of the Rajya Sabha.

IE campaigned for a break from the tradition of nominating a politician for the election of the President of the country. On the retirement of K R Narayanan, IE suggested Swaminathan for the august post. He missed it; but Dr. Abdul Kalam, the renowned space scientist was selected.

 

Nutri-farms to address hidden hunger

Swaminathan has been enjoying admiration and regard from vast sections. It is understandable in the context of his being non-controversial and being good and kind to all. President Pranab Mukherjee specially came to Chennai to participate in the silver jubilee celebrations. The President complimented him for initiating the concept of “nutri-farms” to address hidden hunger caused by micronutrient deficiencies and on his valuable recommendations as Chairman of the National Commission on Farmers for converting the green revolution into an ever green revolution.

Swaminathan has a felicity for expression and has a great command over presenting his thoughts in

elegant language. This octogenarian still travels across the globe and his services are sought widely. Chennai owes a great deal to him for the focus he has brought on agricultural research and issues of global concerns relating to food and agriculture, gender equality, nutrition...

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