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He saved millions from starvation...

This is the centenary year of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution. His introduction of the Mexican dwarf varieties of wheat and successful spread of the technology at Mexico, Pakistan and India contributed to quantum jumps in wheat productivity. Borlaug grew up in Iowa State in the US. He later worked at the Rockefeller Foundation, Mexico, where he introduced the exotic hybrid seed. Still later, he taught at the Texas University. Until he breathed his last in 2009, he worked at farms, training thousands in agri production techniques.

India owes a great deal to Borlaug. C Subramaniam as Minister of Agriculture brought the first hybrid seeds from Mexico during India’s worst years in mid 1960s. Encouraged by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, CS introduced the hybrid wheat variety in a thousand demonstration plots including one around his own house in Delhi. He involved scientists of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and geared up the civil administration under the brilliant B Shivaraman, ICS.

The results were phenomenal. Food production that had nosedived from 89.34 million tonnes in 1964-65 to 72.35 MT in 1965-66, increased to 99.50 MT in 1969-70. Wheat production nearly doubled from 10.29 MT in 1965-66 to 20.69 MT in 1969-70.There was coordinated work by scientists, agriculture universities, notably, Punjab and Pantnagar, extension machinery of the states and the Central agriculture department. The farmers who were initially sceptical, besieged universities and demanded the new seed variety. CS arranged for import of 18,000 tonnes of such seeds from Mexico through Borlaug. He once recalled with pain: “the customs department quarantined the seeds and it took special efforts to get them released!”

CS truly triggered the green revolution in India with the help of Borlaug. In 1996 Borlaug visited Chennai on the invitation of MS Swaminathan. The latter entrusted me the task to organise an interactive session with this great scientist at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation. I did this and at the end drove Borlaug to the residence of CS. The two octogenarians passionately discussed the elimination of global hunger!

A measure of the contribution of Borlaug’s invention should be evident from the productivity jump in wheat provided by National Geographic: for the production of 95 million tonnes of wheat the country produced last year, we would be requiring around 96 million hectares; we have been able to do this in just 26 million hectares! What visionaries and what contribution Borlaug, CS, the team of scientists and administrators made that gave the comfort of food surplus for our country!

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