Conferred with the Indira Gandhi Award for national integration, Dr. Swaminathan tells us about the time he and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai went to meet Mrs. Indira Gandhi at her home. “She suddenly asked how soon we could build a foodgrain reserve of 10 million tonnes? I was taken aback but it became clear to me that India’s dependence on imported food was a major concern to her.” This triggered the green revolution and production doubled in quick time. “C Subramaniam, then Food and Agriculture Minister, took the administrative leadership to make this scientific invention a reality. It is the synergy between science and public policy that reversed the ship-to-mouth situation to implementing the food security bill today,” said Dr. Swaminathan.
The sprawling campus of M S Swaminathan research centre is tucked away in a silent corner in the city. The President of India chaired the silver jubilee function. The Governor of Tamil Nadu, Dr. K Rosaiah, Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, Minister for agriculture, Government of Tamil Nadu, S Damodaran participated. The MSSRF focuses on R&D in the areas of mangrove forest restoration, fisheries, medicinal plants, maintaining a gene bank, development of salt and drought tolerant varieties of rice, eco-villages that are self-sustainable and spreading the knowledge of information technology to the rural masses. The foundation has adopted the 4C model for sustainable management of agro-biodiversity involving attention to conservation, cultivation, consumption and commerce.
Need for youth in agriculture
Dr. Swaminathan expressed concern over the poor demographic dividend in agriculture. With the younger generation opting to move out to cities, agriculture is in neglect. Fragmented lands and lack of scope to implement technology and the market disconnect to selling the produce deter youth from choosing agriculture as a career. “For young people to take to agriculture, farming must be both intellectually satisfying and economically rewarding. Our agriculture universities should enable every scholar to become an entrepreneur,” stressed India’s agro-scientist. Few years ago, the Indian government had launched a programme to enable farm graduates to set up agri-business centres and agri-clinics. The program visualised a group of four-five students specialised in various disciplines like agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, marketing and home sciences to join hands and set up business centres. Agri-clinics could provide the needed advisory for crop health and nutrition during the production phase. The multi-disciplinary approach would help in developing the rural economy in a holistic manner. “This did not take off as expected but if such an approach is followed it would open a new sustainable dimension of agriculture for the youth,” said the agri-scientist.
GM crops the way forward
Dr Swaminathan pointed to four main challenges that today’s agriculture faces: prime farm land is out of agriculture, hard to attract and retain talent for agriculture, changing climatic conditions and the market connect.
With natural endowments for agriculture shrinking, genetically modified crops are considered the way forward. IE had suggested (refer October 2013 “Standup, scientists”), for a country suffering from poor agriculture growth, GM crops would be a solution to enhance productivity. “I believe that the current concerns of bio safety and the impact of GM on biodiversity will soon give way to an appreciation of the potential benefits of this new genetics to humankind. Agricultural science and genetics together have fed the world and will continue to feed the world,” said Dr. Swaminathan.
Winner of three top civilian awards, the Padma Shri (1967), the Padma Bhushan (1972), the Padma Vibhushan (1989) and received the World Food Prize (1987), equivalent to the Nobel Prize. With a vision to get rid of hunger and poverty from world, Swaminathan was listed in the ‘Time 20’ list of most influential Asians of the 20th century in 1999.
MSSRF under his guidance focuses to achieve this.