Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan (born 7 August 1925) is an Indian geneticist and international administrator, renowned for his leading role in India's Green Revolution a program under which high-yield varieties of wheat and rice seedlings were planted in the fields of poor farmers. Swaminathan is known as "Indian Father of Green Revolution" for his leadership and success in introducing and further developing high-yielding varieties of wheat in India. He is the founder and chairman of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation. His stated vision is to rid the world of hunger and poverty. Swaminathan is an advocate of moving India to sustainable development, especially using environmentally sustainable agriculture, sustainable food security and the preservation of biodiversity, which he calls an "evergreen revolution."
From 1972 to 1979 he was director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. He was Principal Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture from 1979 to 1980. He served as Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (1982–88) and became president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1988.
In 1999, Time magazine placed him in the 'Time 20' list of most influential Asian people of the 20th century.
Early life and education
M. S. Swaminathan was born in Kumbakonam on 7 August 1925. He was the second son of surgeon Dr. M.K. Sambasivan and Parvati Thangammal Sambasivan. M.S. Swaminathan learnt from his father, "that the word 'impossible' exists mainly in our minds and that given the requisite will and effort, great tasks can be accomplished." Surgeon M.K. Sambasivam, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, took the lead in Kumbakonam in "burning his foreign clothes," a symbolic act in support of the Swadeshi movement: which emphasized the use of Indian rather than foreign-made clothes, and handloomed rather than mill-spun cloth. The political purpose of the swadeshi movement was to free India from dependence on foreign imports and to protect village industry. His father led in opening the temples to [Dalit]s, part of the temple entry movement of the Indian independence movement in Tamil Nadu, and in eradicating filariasis in Kumbakonom, an area long infected with the dread disease. The sense of service to one's fellow man was thus ingrained in him early.
After his father's death when he was 11, young Swaminathan was looked after by his uncle, M. K. Narayanaswami, a radiologist. He attended the local high school and later the Catholic Little Flower High School in Kumbakonom, from which he matriculated at age 15. Coming from a family of doctors, he naturally took admission in a medical school. But, when he witnessed the Great Bengal famine of 1943, he decided to devote his life for getting rid of hunger from India. He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi while he took this decision. He simply switched from the medical field to the agricultural field. He then went on to finish his undergraduate degree at Maharaja's College in Trivandrum, Kerala (now known as University College, Thiruvananthapuram). He studied there from 1940–44 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology.
M.S. Swaminathan is married to Mina Swaminathan, whom he met in 1951 while they were both studying at Cambridge. They live in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. They have three daughters and five grandchildren. Their daughters are Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the Deputy Director General of World Health Organization, Dr. Madhura Swaminathan, who is a Professor of Economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore and Nitya Swaminathan, a Senior Lecturer in Gender Analysis and Development at the University of East Anglia.
Swaminathan then decided to pursue a career in agricultural sciences. He enrolled in Madras Agricultural College ( now the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University ) where he graduated as valedictorian with another Bachelor of Science degree, this time in Agricultural Science. He explained this career decision thus: "My personal motivation started with the great [Bengal famine of 1943], when I was a student at the University of Kerala. There was an acute rice shortage, and in Bengal about 3 million people died from starvation. All of our young people, myself included, were involved in the freedom struggle, which Gandhi had intensified, and I decided I should take to agricultural research in order to help farmers produce more."
In 1947, the year of Indian independence he moved to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi as a post-graduate student in genetics and plant breeding. He obtained a post-graduate degree with high distinction in Cytogenetics in 1949. He wrote the Union Public Service Commission exam and qualified for the Indian Police Service.
He chose to accept the UNESCO Fellowship to continue his IARI research on potato genetics at the Wageningen Agricultural University, Institute of Genetics in the Netherlands. Here he succeeded in standardising procedures for transferring genes from a wide range of wild species of Solanum to the cultivated potato, Solanum tuberosum. In 1950, he moved to study at the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Cambridge School of Agriculture. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in 1952, for his thesis, "Species Differentiation, and the Nature of Polyploidy in certain species of the genus Solanum – section Tuberarium." His work presented a new concept of the species relationships within the tuber-bearing Solanum. His Cambridge college, Fitzwilliam, made him an Honorary Fellow in 2014.
Swaminathan then accepted a post-doctoral research associateship at the University of Wisconsin, Department of Genetics to help set up a USDA potato research station. Despite his strong personal and professional satisfaction with the research work in Wisconsin, he declined the offer of a full-time faculty position, returning to India in early 1954.
Swaminathan has worked worldwide in collaboration with colleagues and students on a wide range of problems in basic and applied plant breeding, agricultural research and development and the conservation of natural resources.
His professional career began in 1949:
- 1949–55 – Research on potato (Solanum tuberosum), wheat (Triticum aestivum), rice (Oryza sativa), and jute genetics.
- 1955–72 – Field research on Mexican dwarf wheat varieties. Teach Cytogenetics, Radiation Genetics, and Mutation Breeding and build up the wheat and rice germplasm collections at Indian Agricultural Research Institute IARI.
- 1972–79 – Director-General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), established the National Bureau of Plant, Animal, and Fish Genetic Resources of India.
Established the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (changed in 2006 to Bioversity International).
- 1979–80 – Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Transformed the Pre-investment Forest Survey Programme into the Forest Survey of India.
- 1981–85 – Independent chairman, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Council, Rome, played a significant role in establishing the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources.
- 1983 – Developed the concept of Farmers' Rights and the text of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (IUPGR).President of the International Congress of Genetics.
- 1982–88 – Director General, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), organised the International Rice Germplasm Centre, now named International Rice Genebank.
- 1984–90 – President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources IUCN, develop the Convention on Biological Diversity CBD.
- 1986–99 – Chairman of the editorial advisory board, World Resources Institute, Washington, D. C., conceived and produced the first "World Resources Report."
- 1988–91 – Chairman of the International Steering Committee of the Keystone International Dialogue on Plant Genetic Resources, regarding the availability, use, exchange and protection of plant germplasm.
- 1991–1995 – Member, Governing Board, Auroville Foundation
- 1988–96 – President, World Wide Fund for Nature–India WWF, Organized the Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre. Organize the Community Biodiversity Conservation Programme.
- 1988–99 – Chairman/Trustee, Commonwealth Secretariat Expert Group, organised the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, for the sustainable and equitable management of tropical rainforests in Guyana. The President of Guyana wrote in 1994 "there would have been no Iwokrama without Swaminathan."
- 1990–93 – Founder/President, International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems (ISME)
- 1988–98 – Chaired various committees of the Government of India to prepare draft legislations relating to biodiversity (Biodiversity Act) and breeders’ and farmers’ rights (Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act).
- in 1993 Dr M. S. Swaminathan, headed an expert group to prepare a draft of a national population policy that would be discussed by the Cabinet and then by Parliament. In 1994 it submitted its report.
- 1994 – Chairman of the Commission on Genetic Diversity of the World Humanity Action Trust. Established a Technical Resource Centre at MSSRF for the implementation of equity provisions of CBD and FAO's Farmers’ Rights.
- 1994 onwards – Chairman of the Genetic Resources Policy Committee (GRPC) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), development of policies for the management of the ex situ collections of International Agricultural Research Centers.
- 1995–1999 chairman, Auroville Foundation
- 1999 – Introduced the concept of trusteeship management of Biosphere reserves. Implemented the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust, with financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
- 2001 – Chairman of the Regional Steering Committee for the India – Bangladesh joint Project on Biodiversity Management in the Sundarbans World Heritage Site, funded by the UN Foundation and UNDP.
- 2002 – President of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs which work towards reducing the danger of armed conflict and to seek solutions to global security threats.
- 2002 – 2005 – Co-chairman with Pedro Sanchezof the UN Millennium Task Force on Hunger, a comprehensive global action plan for fighting poverty, disease and environmental degradation in developing countries.
- 2004 – 2014 – Chairman, National Commission on Farmers.
- Over 68 students have done their PhD thesis work under his guidance.
On the occasion of the presentation of the First World Food Prize to Swaminathan in October 1987, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote: "Dr. Swaminathan is a living legend. His contributions to Agricultural Science have made an indelible mark on food production in India and elsewhere in the developing world. By any standards, he will go into the annals of history as a world scientist of rare distinction."
Swaminathan has been described by the United Nations Environment Programme as "the Father of Economic Ecology."
He was one of three from India included in Time magazine's 1999 list of the "20 most influential Asian people of the 20th century," the other two being Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
Swaminathan was the featured speaker at the 2006 Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa on, 19 October 2006. He was sponsored by Humanities Iowa, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Swaminathan presented the "Third Annual Governor's Lecture" and spoke on "THE GREEN REVOLUTION REDUX: Can we replicate the single greatest period of food production in all human history?" about the cultural and social foundations of the Green Revolution in India and the role of historic leaders in India, such as Mahatma Gandhi, in inspiring the Green Revolution there by calling for the alleviation of widespread hunger. He talked about the links between Gandhi and the great Iowa scientist George Washington Carver.
Swaminathan is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Italian Academy of Sciences.
Dr Swaminathan is a prolific scientific researcher and writer. He published 46 single-author papers between 1950 and 1980. Out of 118 two author papers, he was first author of 80. Out of 63 three-author papers he was first author of 15. Out of 21 four-author papers he was first author of 9. In total he had 254 papers to his credit, 155 of which he was the single or first author. His scientific papers are in the fields of crop improvement (95), cytogenetics and genetics (87) and phylogenetics (72). His most frequent publishers were Indian Journal of Genetics (46), Current Science (36), Nature (12) and Radiation Botany (12). Some of the papers are listed below.
In addition he has written a few books on the general theme of his life's work, biodiversity and sustainable agriculture for alleviation of hunger.
Swaminathan's books include
- "50 Years of Green Revolution - An Anthology of Research Papers", 2017
- "M. S. Swaminathan - Legend in Science and Beyond", 2017
- "In Search of Biohappiness - Biodiversity and Food, Health and Livelihood Security (2nd Edition)", 2015
- "In Search of Biohappiness - Biodiversity and Food, Health and Livelihood Security", 2011
- "Science and Sustainable Food Security - Selected Papers of M S Swaminathan", 2010
- "An Evergreen Revolution", 2006.
- "I Predict: A Century of Hope Towards an Era of Harmony with Nature and Freedom from Hunger", (1999)
- "Gender Dimensions in Biodiversity Management", (ed.) (1998)
- Implementing the Benefit Sharing Provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity: Challenges and opportunities (1997)
- Agrobiodiversity and Farmers' Rights, 1996
"Sustainable Agriculture: Towards Food Security"
- Farmers’ Rights and Plant Genetic Resources: A dialogue. (ed.) (1995)
- Wheat Revolution: a Dialogue (ed) (1993)
Research reports He has published laboratory research results in several scientific journals and increasingly writes for a wider audience in environmental journals. Some of his publications are available online in abstract or full text. and.
A scientific paper in which Swaminathan and his team claimed to have produced a mutant breed of wheat by gamma irradiation of a Mexican variety (Sonora 64) resulting in Sharbati Sonora claimed to have a very high lysine content led to a major controversy. The case was discussed as a classic example of scientific misdemeanor and was claimed to be an error made by the laboratory assistant. The episode was also compounded by the suicide of an agricultural scientist. Recent workers have studied it as part of a systemic problem in Indian agriculture research.
Honours, awards and international recognition
Swaminathan has received several outstanding awards and prizes. These prizes include large sums of money, which has helped sustain and expand his work.
- H.K. Firodia award for excellence in Science & Technology
- Four Freedoms Award for demonstrating achievement of the principles of Freedom of speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from want and Freedom from fear, 2000
- Planet and Humanity Medal of the International Geographical Union awarded "in recognition of his unique success in outstanding scientific research and its application, leading to Asia's Green Revolution. 2000
- UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize Laureate for outstanding contributions to the
protection and management of the environment. Co – winner with Paul and Anne Ehrlich 1994, $200,000 prize.
- The Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement "in recognition of life-long contributions to increasing biological productivity on an ecologically sustainable basis, and to promoting the conservation of biological diversity" 1991
- Honda Prize, for achieving outstanding results in the field of ecotechnology, 1991
- Padma Vibhushan 1989
- World Food Prize for advancing human development through increased quantity, quality or accessibility of food, 1987
- Golden Heart Presidential Award of the Philippines, conferred by president Corazon Aquino 1987
- Albert Einstein World Award of Science as a recognition for his contributions to plant genetics and his influence on international agricultural development. 1986 
- Borlaug Award, given by Coromandel Fertilizers in profound appreciation of his catalytic role in providing deep insights and inspiring fellow scientists to set goals ... for evolving a strategy for agriculture rooted in science, but tempered by a concern for ecology and human values 1979
- Padma Bhushan 1972
- Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership 1971
- Padma Shri 1967
- Foreign Fellow of Bangladesh Academy of Sciences
He holds more than 50 honorary Doctorate degrees from universities around the world.
He has been honoured with several awards in India for his work to benefit the country.
- Karmaveer Puraskaar Noble Laureates, March,2007 by iCONGO- Confederation of NGOs.
- Dupont-Solae Award for his contribution to the field of food and nutrition security 2004
- Life Time Achievement Award from BioSpectrum 2003
- Indira Gandhi Gold Plaque by the Asiatic Society for his significant contribution towards human progress. 2002
- Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development "for his outstanding contribution in the domain of plant genetics and ensuring food security to hundreds of millions of citizens in the developing world." 2000
- Lokmanya Tilak Award by the Tilak Smarak Trust, in recognition of his contribution to the green revolution in India and for his outstanding scientific and environmental works. 2001
- Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development in recognition of creative efforts toward promoting international peace, development and a new international economic order; ensuring that scientific discoveries are used for the larger good of humanity, and enlarging the scope of freedom. 2000
- Millennium Alumnus Award by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University 2000
- Prof P N Mehra Memorial Award 1999
- Legend in his Lifetime Award by the World Wilderness Trust- India 1999
- Dr. B.P. Pal Medal for unique contributions to agricultural research and development of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, India 1997
- V. Gangadharan Award for outstanding contributions to National Development 1997
- Lal Bahadur Shastri Deshgaurav Samman 1992
- Dr. J.C. Bose Medal, Bose Institute 1989
- Krishi Ratna Award for "devotion to the cause of agroscience, and for being the benefactor of the farming community," instituted by the Bharat Krishak Samaj (Indian Farmer's Society)/World Agriculture Fair Memorial Trust Society, and presented by president Giani Zail Singh of India 1986
- Rathindranath Tagore Prize of Visva Bharati University 1981
- R.D. Misra Medal of the Indian Environmental Society 1981
- Barclay Medal of the Asiatic Society for contributions to genetics 1978
- Moudgil Prize of the Bureau of Indian Standards for contributions to standardisation 1978
- Birbal Sahni Medal of the Indian Botanical Society for contributions to Applied Botany 1965.
- Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for contributions to Biological Sciences 1961
- Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration of the Indian National Congress 
He has been honoured with recognition from several international organisations for spreading the benefits of his work to other countries.
- UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Gold Medal for his outstanding work in extending the benefits of biotechnology to marginalised and poverty-stricken populations in developing countries and in securing a sound basis for sustainable agricultural, environmental and rural development 1999
- Henry Shaw Medal awarded by the Board of Trustees of the Missouri Botanical Garden in consideration of important service to humanity through emphasis on sustainability in agriculture – USA 1998
- Ordre du Merite Agricole, Govt of France to honour services of the highest quality rendered to the cause of agriculture 1997
- Highest award for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, Govt of China for outstanding contributions to the lofty cause of environmental protection and development, and for his signal accomplishments in the field of international cooperation 1997
- Global Environmental Leadership Award "for encouraging village-level responses to environmental issues" by the Climate Institute 1995
- World Academy of Art and Science 1994
- Asian Regional Award by the Asian Productivity Organization APO 1994
- Charles Darwin International Science and Environment Medal 1993
- Commandeur of the Order of the Golden Ark of the Netherlands 1990
- The VOLVO Environment Prize for his outstanding research and devoted work in turning Indian food production from a deficit to a much increased supply. 1990.
- Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) international award for significant contributions to promoting the knowledge, skill, and technological empowerment of women in agriculture and for his pioneering role in mainstreaming gender considerations in agriculture and rural development 1985.
- Bicentenary Medal of the University of Georgia, U.S.A. 1985
- Bennett Commonwealth Prize of the Royal Society of Arts for significant contributions to Household Nutrition Security 1984
- Mendel Memorial Medal of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences for contributions to Plant Genetics 1965
Despite these awards and honours, the credibility of Swaminathan and his promotion of biotechnology remains open to question by some. His record retains some controversy. In 1967 Swaminathan published a paper on a variety called Sharbati Sonora which he claimed had more lysine than the Mexican strains from which it was derived. It was re-examined by CIMMYT and found in 1969 to be incorrect. In 1972 Vinod Shah, an agronomist at the ICAR committed suicide and claimed that Swaminathan collected poor quality data to support his ideas. A committee was set up and an investigation was conducted into the Sharbati Sonora case. It was determined that someone had intentionally altered the value of the lysine content so that Sharbati Sonora was viewed positively. The report of the committee noted that it was not an isolated incident and that such practice "pervades the entire scientific and academic community in this country. At the root of it is the greed for bureacratic power and love of a comfortable life that afflicts this class." The first among those who came to expose many of the claims made by MS Swaminathan was Claude Alvares. In his article The Great Gene Robbery 23 March 1986 The Illustrated Weekly. Alvares provided arguments to show that most of the research that was initiated by him and the International Rice Research Institute was not original. Shiv Vishwanathan in an EPW article wrote he is a sociological phenomenon. He is paradigm, exemplar, dissenter, critic and alternative. .....Swaminathan always assimilates the new. Claude Alvares gives a different picture:
Strangely, he has become more and more akin to HYV of the seeds he sells. Like them, he is capable of high-yielding varieties of phrase and word. At a Gandhi seminar, he will speak of the relevance of Gandhi. At a meeting in Madras on the necessity of combine harvesters. At another meeting on appropriate technology, he will plump for organic manures. At a talk in London, he will speak on the necessity of chemical fertilizers. He will label slum dwellers ‘ecological refugees’, and advertise his career as a quest for ‘imparting an ecological basis to productivity improvement.’ This, after presiding over, and indiscriminately furthering, one of the ecologically most devastating technologies of modern times – the HYV package of the Green revolution.
- He currently holds the UNESCO -Cousteau Chair in Ecotechnology at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India.
- He is the chairman of the National Commission on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security of India (National Commission on Farmers).
- He is currently spearheading a movement to bridge the Digital divide called, "Mission 2007: Every Village a Knowledge Centre".
- Bruce Alberts, President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences said of Dr. Swaminathan: "At 80, M.S. retains all the energy and idealism of his youth, and he continues to inspire good behavior and more idealism
from millions of his fellow human beings on this Earth. For that, we can all be thankful".
- M. S. Swaminathan is also a member of the Leadership Council of Compact2025, a partnership that develops and disseminates evidence-based advice to politicians and other decision-makers aimed at ending hunger and undernutrition in the coming 10 years.
- "Biodiversity and Poverty – Natural Resources and the Millennium Goals", M.S. Swaminathan speech and a discussion, University of Berne, Auditorium Maximum, Wednesday, 24 August 2005.Speech, Full text:
- An insightful biography, "M.S. Swaminathan – One Man's Quest for a Hunger-Free World" was written in 2002 by Gita Gopalakrishnan, Education Development Center (EDC), Sri Venkatesa Printing House, Chennai, pp. 132 ISBN 81-7276-260-7 Full text:.
- To learn the most about M. S. Swaminathan, the book to read is: "Scientist and Humanist: M.S. Swaminathan" by R.D. Iyer,
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 2002. pp. 245 Excerpt with photos
- "The Man Who Harvests Sunshine – The Modern Gandhi: M. S. Swaminathan." Andréi Erdélyi. Tertia Kiadó, H-1158, Budapest, Kubelsberg Kunóu36,
- "The Great Gene Robbery" by Claude Alvares
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