New Delhi: The National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru has launched a project to archive 80 years of research – with over 48,000 materials – conducted by renowned agricultural scientist and plant geneticist M.S. Swaminathan.
Known for his role in developing and introducing high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, Swaminathan has been called the main architect of the Green Revolution in India.
Swaminathan’s extensive body of work is housed at NCBS, a collection center dedicated to preserving the history of science in contemporary India. It contains his research notes, data, and photographs dating as far back as 1933, as well as his correspondences with government officials up to 2020.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described him as the ‘Father of Economic Ecology’. He was one of three Indians to feature in Time magazine’s 1999 list of the ‘20 most influential people of the 20th century’, alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
Norman Borlaug, a 1970 Nobel Prize winner and leader of the global Green Revolution, once wrote to Swaminathan saying, “The Green Revolution has been a team effort and much of the credit for its spectacular development must go to Indian officials, organisations, scientists and farmers.”
Borlaug also went on to say that without Swaminathan there may not have been a Green Revolution in Asia.
The agricultural expert chaired the National Commission on Farmers from 2004 to 2006 and published reports that illuminated pressing issues such as agrarian distress and farmer suicides, while recommending that a holistic national policy should be constructed to address them.
Collection available for public research
The archives at NCBS cover virtually every arena of Swaminathan’s life – draft reports, publications, his days at the IARI (Indian Agricultural Research Institute), awards and accolades, his personal biography, and a collection of media articles and press photos.
An agricultural treasure trove, it also contains historical material of other economists in the field – from plant breeder and agronomist B.P Pal, to B.R Murthy, a noted botanist known for his contributions to conservation genetics.
A third section of the archives covers this pivotal chapter and includes his work with governmental, national and international agencies.
An inauguration event for the project was held on 11 October and it was attended by K. Vijay Raghavan, former principal scientific advisor to the Narendra Modi government; Ashok Kumar Singh, director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute; and N. Ram, director of The Hindu group of newspapers, along with other guests.
Madhura Swaminathan, daughter of M.S Swaminathan and chairperson of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, also attended the event and discussed the importance of archiving agricultural history for further research as well as societal understanding.
Swaminathan’s collection is available for public research and inquiries, although there are restrictions on material post-1992. The reasons for this have not been stated by the NCBS.
‘Hunger & deprivation can be eliminated sooner’
A report in The Indian Express this year noted how Swaminathan believed that “importing food was akin to importing unemployment”, especially when “70 per cent of the country’s population was employed in agriculture”.
The report also quoted one of his statements from 2005 where he said, “I am firmly convinced that hunger and deprivation can be eliminated sooner than most people consider feasible, provided there is synergy among technology, public policy and social action.”
In 2018, Swaminathan and geneticist P.C. Kesavan came under severe criticism from fellow experts for an article they had written criticising genetically modified (GM) crops.