Agronomist MS Swaminathan: All about the Bharat Ratna Awardee

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Renowned agronomist and agricultural scientist Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, a key figure in initiating the Green Revolution, has been posthumously honored with the prestigious Bharat Ratna award. This recognition, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 9, celebrates Swaminathan’s unmatched contributions to Indian agriculture and the welfare of farmers.

Acknowledging his pivotal role in ushering in the Green Revolution, Swaminathan joins the ranks of former Prime Ministers Chaudhary Charan Singh and PV Narasimha Rao in receiving the highest civilian award in the country posthumously. As a globally recognized agricultural scientist, Swaminathan played a crucial role in steering India towards self-sufficiency in food production.

Agronomist MS Swaminathan Overview

Personal Details
Date of Birth:7 August 1925
Birthplace:Kumbakonam, Tanjore District, Madras Presidency, British India (present-day Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India)
Died:28 September 2023 (aged 98)
Place of Death:Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Alma Mater:– University of Kerala (BSc)
– University of Madras (BSc)
– Indian Agricultural Research Institute (Associateship in Genetics)
– Wageningen University (UNESCO Fellow in Genetics)
– University of Cambridge (PhD)
– University of Wisconsin (postdoc)
Spouse:Mina Swaminathan (m. 1955; died 2022)
Children:3, including Soumya
Scientific Career
– Fields: Botany, Plant Genetics, Genetics, Cytogenetics, Ecological Economics, Plant Breeding, Ecotechnology
– Institutions:
– Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI; as teacher, researcher, and research administrator, 1954–1972)
– Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR; as Director General, 1972–1980)
– International Rice Research Institute (IRRI; as Director General, 1982–1988)

Early Life

Born in Kumbakonam, Madras Presidency, on August 7, 1925, Swaminathan was the second son of general surgeon MK Sambasivan and Parvati Thangammal Sambasivan.

Inspired by the profound impact of the Bengal famine of 1943 during the Second World War, Swaminathan made a life-altering decision to dedicate himself to ensuring India’s food sufficiency. Despite his family’s background in medicine and engineering, he chose agriculture as his calling.

In 1944, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Science from the University of Madras. Subsequently, he pursued further studies at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi, focusing on genetics and plant breeding, where he achieved a post-graduate degree with high distinction in cytogenetics in 1949.

His academic journey continued as he moved to the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Cambridge School of Agriculture in 1950, earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1952.

Professional life

Following his post-doctoral research associateship at the University of Wisconsin’s Laboratory of Genetics in the US, Swaminathan returned to India in 1954.

Expressing concern about India’s dependence on food grain imports despite being an agricultural-centric nation, Swaminathan, alongside Nobel Prize-winning American agronomist, toured India and pioneered the development of new crop varieties.

Their collaborative efforts bore fruit when the government declared India self-sufficient in food production in 1971.

Subsequently, Swaminathan assumed the role of the director-general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and served as a secretary to the Government of India.

In 1982, he made history by becoming the first Asian director-general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, where he remained until 1988.

His influential roles extended to becoming the president and vice-president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Wildlife Fund in 1984.

Awards, contributions, and achievements

In 1987, Swaminathan received the inaugural World Food Prize, and the prize money was utilized to establish the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation.

His contributions extended to establishing the Nuclear Research Laboratory at the IARI. Additionally, he played a pivotal role in advocating for the creation of the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in India, the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (now Bioversity International) in Italy, and the International Council for Research in Agro-Forestry in Kenya.

From 2002 to 2005, Swaminathan co-chaired the United Nations Millennium Project on hunger and served as the head of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs between 2002 and 2007.

In 2004, he chaired the National Commission on Farmers. Nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the late President APJ Abdul Kalam, Swaminathan served from 2007 to 2013.

Major Recognitions

Throughout his illustrious career, Swaminathan garnered numerous accolades and honors:

YearAward/Honor
1961Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award
1965Mendel Memorial Medal from the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences
1967Padma Shri
1971Ramon Magsaysay Award
1972Padma Bhushan
1986Albert Einstein World Science Award
1987The first World Food Prize
1989Padma Vibhushan
1991Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement
2000Four Freedoms Award
2000Planet and Humanity Medal of the International Geographical Union
2024Bharat Ratna

In addition, he received international recognition with honors such as the Order of the Golden Heart of the Philippines, the Order of Agricultural Merit of France, the Order of the Golden Ark of the Netherlands, and the Royal Order of Sahametrei of Cambodia.

Before being honored with the Bharat Ratna, Swaminathan had already been awarded the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Vibhushan, as well as the H K Firodia Award, the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award, and the Indira Gandhi Prize.

Swaminathan passed away on September 28, 2023, at the age of 98 in Chennai.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Who was Dr. M.S. Swaminathan?

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan (Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan), who passed away in 2023, was a renowned Indian agronomist, agricultural scientist, plant geneticist, and humanitarian. He is widely known as the “Father of the Green Revolution” in India for his pivotal role in developing high-yielding crop varieties and improving agricultural practices, leading to increased food security for millions.

2. What did Dr. Swaminathan achieve?

Dr. Swaminathan’s most significant achievement was spearheading the Green Revolution in India during the 1960s. He introduced high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, along with better irrigation methods and fertilizers, significantly boosting agricultural production and alleviating widespread food shortages. Additionally, he served as Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and held various leadership positions in Indian agricultural research institutions.

3. Why is Dr. Swaminathan called the “Father of the Green Revolution”?

His pioneering work in developing and implementing agricultural advancements directly contributed to transforming India from a food-deficient nation to a self-sufficient one. This remarkable achievement earned him the title “Father of the Green Revolution,” recognizing his lasting impact on Indian agriculture and food security.

4. Where was Dr. Swaminathan’s research foundation located?

Dr. Swaminathan established the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai, India, in 1988. This non-profit organization continues his legacy by focusing on sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation, and rural development efforts.

5. What are some of Dr. Swaminathan’s notable awards and accomplishments?

Dr. Swaminathan’s distinguished career was marked by numerous prestigious awards, including the World Food Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, and India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna. He authored numerous scientific publications and actively advocated for sustainable food systems and equitable access to agricultural resources.


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