Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, born on 7 August 1925 and passed away on 28 September 2023, was an esteemed Indian agronomist, agricultural scientist, plant geneticist, and humanitarian. Often hailed as the main architect of the Green Revolution in India, Swaminathan’s work in the agricultural field had a profound impact not only in India but globally. He was the first recipient of the World Food Prize in 1987 and was dubbed “the Father of Economic Ecology” by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Early Life and Education

Family Background

Swaminathan was born in Kumbakonam, Madras Presidency. He was the second son of general surgeon M. K. Sambasivan and Parvati Thangammal Sambasivan, who were from Alappuzha district in Kerala. After the death of his father at age 11, Swaminathan was taken care of by his father’s brother.

Educational Journey

He initially attended a local high school, and later, the Catholic Little Flower High School in Kumbakonam. Despite initial ambitions to study medicine, Swaminathan chose agriculture after witnessing the devastating impacts of the Bengal famine of 1943. He completed his undergraduate degree in zoology at Maharaja’s College in Trivandrum, Kerala, and later earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Science from University of Madras.

In 1947, he moved to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi to further study genetics and plant breeding. He earned a postgraduate degree with high distinction in cytogenetics in 1949.

Career and Contributions

Green Revolution

Swaminathan’s work was instrumental in the Green Revolution in India, particularly in the introduction and development of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice. His collaborative efforts with Norman Borlaug and other scientists saved India and Pakistan from famine-like conditions in the 1960s.

Research and Publications

His research contributions spanned across various crops including potato, wheat, and rice. He worked in areas like cytogenetics, ionizing radiation, and radiosensitivity. He was also a president of the Pugwash Conferences and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Policy and Leadership

He served as the director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. In 2004, he chaired the National Commission on Farmers, recommending reforms for India’s farming system. He also founded an eponymous research foundation.

Awards and Honours

Swaminathan received numerous awards throughout his career, including:

  • Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award
  • Ramon Magsaysay Award
  • Albert Einstein World Science Award

Vision and Legacy

Swaminathan coined the term ‘Evergreen Revolution’ in 1990 to describe his vision for sustainable agriculture. He was nominated to the Parliament of India for one term between 2007 and 2013 and even proposed a bill for the recognition of women farmers in India.

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan was a towering figure in the field of agriculture, not just in India but globally. His work and vision transformed the face of agriculture, bringing food security to millions. His passing marks the end of an era, but his legacy will continue to inspire scientists, policymakers, and humanity at large.