Swaminathan’s Green Revolution: High-Yield Crops for Sustainability

Dr. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, an Indian agro-scientist, played a pivotal role in the Green Revolution in India. His contributions extended to sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation, and rural development.

Dr. Swaminathan played a crucial role in transforming India’s agriculture in the 1960s when India faced droughts and food shortages. He implemented innovative strategies that transformed the nation from a food importer into a self-sufficient one. He promoted high-yielding seeds, advocated for minimum support prices for farmers, and received numerous awards, including the inaugural World Food Prize, Padma Vibhushan, and Ramon Magsaysay Award, earning him the title of the “father” of India’s Green Revolution.

Swaminathan led the Green Revolution in the mid-1900s, which involved providing high-yielding variety seeds, adequate irrigation facilities, and fertilizers to Indian farmers, primarily in the regions of Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh. Its primary goal was to ensure there was enough food for everyone, especially the poor, by using special seeds, improved farming methods, and modern tools to boost crop yields. He introduced high-yielding dwarf wheat varieties from Mexico and rice from Peta (Indonesia) and Dee-geo-woo-gen (Taiwan) to Indian agriculture, promoting modern farming practices. This transformation turned India from a potential famine-stricken nation into a food-surplus country. His efforts included setting up demonstration plots to educate farmers about the benefits of these new breeds. In 1988, he founded the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), which focuses on using modern science for sustainable agricultural and rural development.

Historian Ramchandra Guha highlighted this transformation in his book “India After Gandhi.” He noted, “Swaminathan’s collaboration with Norman E. Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was instrumental in developing these wheat varieties.”1

The government increased investments in agriculture due to the success of the Green Revolution. They invested in research, building infrastructure, providing subsidies, and offering support services to farmers. These investments encompassed research, infrastructure development, subsidies, and support services for farmers. The primary objectives of these investments were to sustain agricultural productivity, ensure food security, and enhance the livelihoods of farmers. However, as a consequence of these investments, people became more aware of the importance of environmentally-friendly farming practices.

The Green Revolution started in the mid-20th century, had a profound impact on global agriculture:

  1. It introduced high-yielding crop varieties, boosting global food production.
  2. Significantly reduced hunger and poverty by ensuring a stable food supply.
  3. Promoted modern farming practices, enhancing productivity and efficiency.
  4. Contributed to economic growth and job creation in developing countries.
  5. Raised environmental concerns due to increased chemical use.
  6. Demonstrated the potential of technology to address food security.
  7. Offers valuable lessons for sustainable agriculture and equitable distribution of benefits.

Moreover, M.S. Swaminathan holds a special place in the hearts of Indian farmers, largely due to the “Swaminathan Report.” This report is renowned for its key recommendation: Minimum Support Price (MSP) should be equal to the Comprehensive Cost of Production plus an additional 50%.  His influence on the National Commission on Farmers’ reports left an enduring mark on Indian agriculture.

Green Revolution 2.0

It was started in 2005-06, aimed to modernize India’s agriculture sector, enhance food production, and boost agricultural exports. It succeeded in increasing crop productivity, diversifying crops, improving market access, and strengthening food security. However, it also caused some environmental problems which need to be fixed with eco-friendly farming.

Negative aspects of the Green Resolution

The Green Revolution boosted overall agricultural productivity but resulted in a wider gap between small and large farmers. Efforts to address this gap have included policies supporting smallholders, promoting sustainable agriculture, and improving small-scale farmers’ access to resources and markets. It brought financial hardship to many farmers who incurred significant debt while adopting hybrid crops due to government incentives. However, the government failed to ensure fair prices for their bountiful harvests, leading to difficulties in repaying loans. Banks, once friendly, turned into tough loan enforcers, causing financial distress for many farmers.

While the Green Revolution significantly increased agricultural productivity, it also raised various environmental concerns, such as the unscientific use of water, fertilizers, and electricity, resulting in wastage and environmental damage. Additionally, the overuse of chemical fertilizers contributed to excessive salt content in farmlands, harming soil health and biodiversity. These issues highlighted the need for more sustainable and responsible farming practices.

In essence, Swaminathan’s Green Revolution had a significant impact on increasing agricultural productivity and food security. It is not solely about agricultural transformation but also about celebrating the remarkable journey of a visionary leader, the resilience of the agricultural community, and the collective achievements of the entire nation. It transcends being a mere episode in India’s history; it serves as a valuable lesson on how a nation can overcome formidable challenges to achieve an enviable position. However, at present, there is a need for a more sustainable and holistic approach to agriculture to address long-term challenges such as the ongoing agrarian crisis and the issue of climate change to ensure the well-being of both farmers and the environment.

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