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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 40 September 30, 2023

For A Real Tribute to MS Swaminathan Implement Swaminathan Commission recommendations I Soma Marla

Saturday 30 September 2023, by Soma S. Marla


A year back I was travelling to Bhopal from Delhi on a train and met a few farmers in my compartment. While introducing myself I casually asked them if they knew Dr. Swaminathan Ji. Immediately two of them nodded affirmatively and said “Swaminathan sipharoso lagu karo” (Implement the recommendations of Swaminathan commission. Farmers around the country knows Dr Swaminathan not only for Kayan Sona, a high-yielding dwarf wheat, but also his pro-farmer recommendations, including on crop MSPs. That is legacy of green revolution’s doyen. For increasing food production from 0.5 cr tons ( in 1950) to nearly 33..0 crore tonnes in 2023. I remember two of his famous slogans— “ you can buy guns but never grain” and “The future of nations belongs to those with self-sufficiency in food production”. It’s really a sad day that we lost a patriotic scientist with his vision and mission banished famines and brought food security.

During my primary school days in late 60’s and early 70’s there used to be a severe shortage for food grins in the country. People used to discuss about availability of rice or whet in ration or kirana stores depending on arrival of American ships to Indian ports carrying grin under humiliating PL- 480 agreement. That was hand to mouth existence for the nation. At that time Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and other scientists from Indian Council for Agricultueral Research were mandated by Union agricultural ministry to find solutions from the food shortages. At that time Dr. M. S Swaminathan contected Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American scientist at the International Wheat centre, Mexico who recently developed high-yielding but red and dwarf Mexicon wheat varieties. Dr. Swaminathan contacted Dr. Borlaug and brought a few seeds of Mexican wheats and tested for their suitability in Indian fields. The field trials conducted at both IARI farm, New Delhi and Ludhiana Agricultural University yielded much better than Indian wheats (up to nearly 5.0 tons per ha). Emboldened by these initial results, Dr. Swaminathan and his team of crop breeders from Genetics division of IARI, Pusa attempted different crosses between Mexican and Indian desi wheats. After a few years of back-breaking crosses and field research they came out with iconic wheat verities such Sonara 64, Sonalika and later iconic Kalyan Sona varieties. In no time these high-yielding wheat varieties were accepted by farmers of Punjab, Haryana, M.P and other states and spread across the northern India. Similarly Dr. Swaminathan led a rice yield improvement Project as well. High-yielding Taiwanese Mahsuri type TN.1 and IR rice varieties were crossed with tall and low yielding native Indian rice varieties.

The crosses again performed wonderfully and high yielding IR.8, Jaya and other iconic varieties too yielded very high. With hard work of our farmers and public sector research scientists in no time the high yielding dwarf varieties spread across fields like wild fire. By late 70’s yield of wheat and rice increased and nation stopped food imports. Major credit for this success story for turning a starved nation depending on food imports to a self secure, food self sufficient nation goes to the visionary planning of Dr. M.S. Swaaminathan. That is the power of public sector farm research, which of course can never be expected from profit-mongering corporate agribusiness.

In 2004, the then UPA government alarmed with serious farm crisis and increasing number of farmer suicides appointed a Farmers Commission under the chairman ship of Dr. Swaminathan and asked to suggest ways to come out of this rurl crisis. His commission consisted of Mr. Atul Kumar Anjan, President of left leaning AIKS to Mr. Josshi of rightist Setkari Sanghatana from Maharastra. He was open minded and accommodated the issues genuinely in favour of farmers welfare. After a detailed studyin 2008 the Commission came out with important recommendations to rise farmers incomes and farm productivity. Significant ones being- recalculation of crop support prices, environment friendly cultivation, equal wages & land ownership rights to women farmers and implementation of land reforms to name a few. Both the present and former UPA governments though accepted but never sincere in implementing the Commission recommendations.

Present government came to power in 2014 promising in it’s election manifesto to implement Farmers commission recommendation but never walked the talk. The present government even declared to Supreme Court that it’s not in a position to harm the markets by paying justful support prices to crop produce. Subsequently, farmers discontent rose and tragically six farmers were killed in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh during their agitation for better crop prices. Farmers led historic Nashik and Parliment marches culminating with nearly year and half long Delhi agitation demanding scrapping of pro agribusiness three farm laws.

In 2011, Dr. Swaminathan as a member of Rajya Sabha, proposed a private members bill seeking equal land property rights to women farmers. Unfortunately the bill was not passed due to lack of support.

There was a trade off. Much heralded green revolution brought food self sufficiency to the nation but eroded soils, water bodies and did not benefit much benefit small and landless farmers. Instead ftilizer, pesticide, machinery industry and trader lobby mainly benefited from the underlying agenda of green revolution. But for this the blame should go to successive governments that acted in favour of rich farmers and transnational corporate agribusiness syndicates.

Dr. Swaaminathan completed his education in agriculture from agricultueral college, Coimbatore, and Indian Agricultural Institute, Pusa Delhi and proceeded to Netherlands and England to complete his doctoral and post-doctoral research. The man-made tragic Bengal famine convinced him to return to India and work in agricultural research. During his nearly four decdes of service with Indian Agricultueral Research Institute and later as it’s Director with his visionary planning heralded crop breeding and brought invaluable improvement in yields of wheat, rice, potato and several other crops. He was a recipient of several awards beginning with World Food Prize, Padmavibhushan, Raman Magasaysay Award, and several others. After retirement, he founded the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and worked effortlessly for biodiversity, conservation of sea coast mangroves, welfare of women rice farmers. One notable aspect of his personality was that he in spite of his high profiled stature accessible to all starting from a small farmer, a struggling research student to top government officials in his Chennai residence.

A real tribute to Dr. Swaminathan would be to recalculate crop support prices and convene a special session of Parliament exclusively to discuss recommendations of the Farmers Commission to improve livelihoods of farmers and farm labourers.

(Author: Dr. Soma Marla, Principal Scientist (Genomics, retd), ICAR, Pusa, New Delhi.)

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