HIGHLIGHTS

  • By purposeful manipulation of genes, he and his co-workers in 1967 developed a dwarf, non-lodging wheat variety—Sharbati Sonora, with amber grains—from Sonora-64 which has red grains and hence a low consumer preference in India.
  • Encouraged by him, scientists at Pusa extended their work to practical application in farmers’ fields. University students were enlisted in this attack upon the limitations to a better life on the land.
  • His particular combination of talents has made SWAMINATHAN an acknowledged leader of India’s community of agriculturists.
  • The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his contributions as scientist, educator of both students and farmers, and administrator toward generating a new confidence in India’s agricultural capabilities.”

 CITATION

Whether India, with nearly one-sixth of the human race, can provide sufficient food for her growing numbers in the years ahead depends ultimately upon her farmers. Their performance is closely linked to what science develops and makes operative in rural life. Without continuing refinement of relevant knowledge and its efficient transference, especially to the poorer villages, the “green revolution” may foster more discontent than it satisfies.

In an age when radioisotopes, a Gamma Garden and chemical mutagens are among the plant breeders’ tools, Dr. SWAMINATHAN is an originative follower of Gregor Johann Mendel, the Austrian monk and botanist who founded genetics over a century ago. A cytogeneticist, in the past 16 years he had made major advances in breeding sturdier, more productive and better quality plant types at the Pusa Institute, as the Agricultural Research Institute outside of Delhi is popularly known. Included in the wide-ranging studies by him and his associates have been India’s most essential food crops—wheat, rice, maize, sorghum, millet, pulses, potatoes and vegetables oils—plus cotton and jute. By purposeful manipulation of genes, he and his co-workers in 1967 developed a dwarf, non-lodging wheat variety—Sharbati Sonora, with amber grains—from Sonora-64 which has red grains and hence a low consumer preference in India.

An ability and enthusiasm for passing on his knowledge to others in the laboratory, classroom and field, and his prolific writing have earned him a reputation as a most lucid educator. In the past five years since he became Director of the Institute, SWAMINATHAN has proven himself an equally gifted administrator.

Encouraged by him, scientists at Pusa extended their work to practical application in farmers’ fields. University students were enlisted in this attack upon the limitations to a better life on the land. The primary demonstration arena for these efforts are villages around Delhi where tests of improved seeds—by farmers with whom the Pusa Institute cooperates— have won confidence in their productive potential. As part of a High-Yielding Varieties Program designed by SWAMINATHAN one community was transformed into a “seed village” specializing in controlled multiplication of improved varieties to supply the needs of the entire state, and thousands of demonstrations were laid out by scientists in farmers’ fields throughout India.

His particular combination of talents has made SWAMINATHAN an acknowledged leader of India’s community of agriculturists. Now 46 years of age, he is carrying forward his Madrasi family tradition of energetic personal emphasis upon professional excellence. That he is doing so with such broadly beneficial results for rural India is the mark of a first-rate scientist who is also a humanist.

In electing MONCOMPU SAMBASIVAN SWAMINATHAN to receive the 1971 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his contributions as scientist, educator of both students and farmers, and administrator toward generating a new confidence in India’s agricultural capabilities.

 RESPONSE

I deem it a very great honor and privilege to have been chosen for the Community Leadership Award instituted in the memory of one of the greatest world leaders and humanists of our time. The late President Ramon Magsaysay devoted his tremendous vision, wisdom and energy to the cause of helping his fellowmen build a better life for all. A satisfied stomach is a prerequisite not only for happiness but even to enable men to behave as human beings, a fact so well expressed by the Roman philosopher, Seneca, when he said, “A hungry people listens not to reason nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayers.” Even as recently as the mid-sixties, the future of many of the developing nations appeared hopeless when assessed in terms of their ability to feed their fast growing populations. Drs. William and Paul Paddock, in their book Famine Nineteen Seventy-Five!, even went to the extent of comparing the fate of my countrymen after 1975 to that of sheep being led to the slaughterhouse. Then came the avalanche of scientific results from this great country, Mexico, Taiwan and India which opened up altogether new vistas in the yield potential of our major food crops. I consider this award as a tribute which the Magsaysay Foundation would like to pay to the entire community of agricultural scientists in my country who have helped to provide a breathing spell during which efforts can be made to prove the prophets of doom false.

New concepts of crop planning and land use, designed to get the maximum benefit from he physical, biological and environmental endowments of tropical and subtropical agriculture, are being developed. Where there is water four or even five crops can now be grown in a year in multiple, mixed and relay cropping systems, getting for the farmer the benefit of nearly 450 days of crop growth in a year of 365 days. New methods of water management and enrichment of soil fertility, coupled with crop varieties capable of avoiding the rigors of drought or floods through changes in their life length and coordinated pest control schedules, are opening up new hopes for peasants working in environmentally handicapped areas. The “green revolution” in cereals has paved the way for developing harmonious systems of agriculture and animal husbandry.

The scientific prospects for alleviating hunger, increasing the avenues for productive and remunerative employment, and banishing poverty through a radical transformation of cropping systems leading to the growth of agro-industries, are fascinating and immense. At the same time the magnitude of the problems of illiteracy, under- and malnutrition, under- and unemployment and population growth are truly staggering. In spite of all efforts, the number of illiterates in absolute terms is growing in many parts of Asia, including India. Leading scientific journals carry data indicating that protein calorie malnutrition in infants may affect the replication of the chemical substance of heredity, DNA, and lead to an irreversible underdevelopment of a child’s intellectual potential, thus compounding the ill effects of the already poor educational opportunities.

The Indian achievement in wheat production, leading to a near doubling of the total harvest from a little over 12 million tons to over 23 million tons in four crop seasons, has few parallels in recorded agricultural history and serves to illustrate what can be accomplished provided farmers, scientists, extension and communication experts and political and administrative leaders, all function like members of a symphony orchestra. Unless such an orchestration in effort is generated for all crops, a scientific breakthrough may not necessarily lead to a production breakthrough. This is illustrated by the yield stagnation in sorghum in my country where, although new hybrids and varieties capable of yielding two to three times more than the earlier ones have been available since 1964, the yield per hectare has hardly altered in the last decade. Wheat posed fewer pest, management and marketing problems and the farmers responded with enthusiasm to produce as much or even more than what was harvested in the National Demonstration plots put up by scientists in the fields of poor peasants. In other crops like rice, sorghum, maize, millets and pulses, problems of management, pest control, storage, marketing and pricing require sophisticated and coordinated efforts of a type which few developing nations have yet generated. Consequently, a genuine feeling that they have been bypassed by the “green revolution” is growing in the minds of many farmers.

We are thus faced on one side by great scientific possibilities and on the other by vast problems of organization, coordinated action, communication, and population growth absorbing the fruits of all advance. Those who have the power and capacity to serve their fellowmen—be they scientists, educationists, administrators or political leaders—have probably never had in human history so many challenging opportunities for service and for experiencing the thrill of fulfillment. What is needed is the will to act and the determination to learn and adopt the correct techniques of action, since Asian farmers have given ample evidence in recent years that they are ready for change if the change is for the better economically.

I would like to end on a personal note. When over 10 years ago my colleagues and I at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute embarked on the relentless pursuit of high incomes from farming through high yields—without detriment to the long term productivity of the soil—we hoped that the high yielding varieties would not only help raise production but would also act as catalysts in bringing about a total transformation in the outlook and agronomic methodology of our rural community. Where sights are limited, action is equally circumscribed and cynical comment is the only reception accorded to new ideas. Mahatma Gandhi referred to this situation over 40 years ago, when addressing those who wished to work in Indian villages. He said, “The fact is the villagers have lost all hope. They suspect that every stranger’s hand is at their throats and that he goes to them only to exploit them. The divorce between intellect and labor has paralyzed our agriculture. The worker should enter villages full of love and hope, feeling sure that where men and women labor unintelligently and remain unemployed half the year round, he working all the year round and combining labor with intelligence cannot fail to win the confidence of the villagers.” I have had the privilege of personally experiencing the wisdom of Gandhi’s recipe. Hence, while accepting the Award for Community Leadership bearing the name of one, whose main characteristic was his passionate love of poor people, I plead in all humility with the young men and women in the universities and scientific institutions of the developing nations to seize the opportunity and power, given them by science, to make real the possibilities of a truly human and meaningful life for millions of their fellow beings. It is to promote this cause that I propose to use the Award.

 BIOGRAPHY

“The principles of self-reliance, love towards all and community effort were inculcated in me during the first 10 years of my life,” MONCOMPU SAMBASIVAN SWAMINATHAN writes. Born on August 7, 1925 in Kumabakonom in Madras State, South India, he was the second son of Surgeon M. K. Sambasivan and Parvathi Thangammal Sambasivan. “I learn’t from my father,” he adds, “that the word ‘impossible’ exists mainly in our minds and that given the requisite will and effort, great tasks can be accomplished.”

He recalls how his father, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, took the lead in their area in “burning his foreign clothes,” a symbolic act in support of the swedeshi movement which emphasized the use of Indian rather than foreign-made clothes, and handloomed rather than mill-spun cloth. The purpose of swedeshi was to free India from dependence on foreign imports and to protect village industry. His father also led in opening the temples to “untouchables,” and in eradicating filariasis in Kumbakonom, an area long infected with the dread disease. The sense of service to one’s fellowman 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 graduated at age 15. He went on to get his Bachelor of Science in Zoology from the University of Travancore (now Kerala University) in 1944. At that point he decided to take up the study of agriculture.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)