The 1998 recipient of the World Food Prize, Badrinarayan Ramulal Barwale, has literally transformed the face of Indian agriculture during the past fifty years. Since the earliest days of Indian independence, this private farmer and entrepreneur has led the way in privatizing the development and distribution of high-yielding varieties and hybrid seeds. In the process, he has helped his countrymen achieve that which is fundamental to freedom — food security.
B.R. Barwale was born into a small agricultural family in Hingoli / Jalna in 1931, while India was still under British control. Shortly after his 17th birthday, the region became part of the independent Indian republic, whose government was faced with the problem of how to feed its people. At that time, most family farms operated on few acres of land, incomes were small, debts were high, and yields often failed to suffice even for the household that produced them.
Seeing the importance of investment and higher yield ceilings, Dr. Barwale as a young farmer sought to develop his family’s farm with extra hired workers and innovative irrigation. The okra seeds bred by Dr. Barwale were carefully cultivated to sell as seed to other farmers. By 1961, his success had attracted the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation, which was cooperating with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to build a private-sector seed industry in the country. Over the next three years, Dr. Barwale was marketing hybrid corn and sorghum in addition to his own okra seeds.
Dr. Barwale founded “Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company – Mahyco” – in 1964 to expand sales and production of his seeds across the country. While other private enterprises were marketing to wealthier farmers, Dr. Barwale hoped to encourage food production and the agricultural industry by targeting small-scale farmers. He offered three-kilo bags of his hybrids at reasonable prices. He traveled the country giving demonstrations in rural areas where illiteracy was the norm and contracted with private farmers to grow his seed. He assisted farmers in financing investment in their plots and farm technology, which led him to chair the Jalna People’s Cooperative Bank in 1965.
Mahyco initiated its own research program in 1966 to test new India-specific hybrids, the quality of which drew the attention of the government. Dr. Barwale joined Seed Review Team which outlined the development of private seed industry across India, in 1967. As Mahyco’s increasing profits were reinvested in research during the 1970s, and the product line expanded to more than 30 crop species, Dr. Barwale continued to consult with government regulators and private entrepreneurs alike to create a larger field of competition among India’s quality hybrid-seed producers. For his efforts, he was made a life member of the Federation of International Seedsmen in 1996.
Today, Mahyco employs over 100,000 self-managing contract growers and several thousands more in seed production, processing, and distribution, a large percentage who are women. It operates the Mahyco Life Sciences Research Center, one of the most advanced seed research and development centers in Asia, and is collaborating with Monsanto to develop biotechnological crops that will continue to improve food production as India’s population increases. Mahyco was the first seed company to receive the Indian government’s prestigious First National Award from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Ministry of Science and Technology in 1989.
Dr. Barwale’s contribution to the private seed industry in India as a whole is equally impressive. With over 100 private companies producing and marketing hybrid seed to India’s farmers, the level of seed being distributed is more than 40 times what it was in the early 1950s following independence. Over half of India’s food crops are grown using domestically produced seed, and a significant amount of privately developed crop seed is now being exported outside of India.
Also a remarkable humanitarian, Dr. Barwale created the Mahyco Research Foundation (now known as the Barwale Foundation) to support scientific research in areas crucial to supporting India’s growing population.
He donated his cash award from the World Food Prize to the foundation to promote investigation and testing of hybrid rice varieties. He also built the Shri Ganapati Netralaya in 1992, a state-of-the-art eye hospital in Jalna that specializes in consultations, surgeries, and postgraduate medical training; Dr. Barwale and his family personally cover 95 percent of the hospital’s operating costs. He has contributed to the construction and repair of schools and colleges in Jalna as well.
Now retired, Dr. Barwale is chairman of the Bombay Public Community Trust. Noted by the Crop Science Society of America as the Father of Seed Industry in India, he has also been extensively involved in training other developing countries’ seed growers to build strong private seed industries. He received the Indian government’s 2001 Padma Bhushan award for outstanding commercial and economic achievement, a 2002 honorary doctorate in science from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, and the First National Award for Bio-tech Product Commercialization in 2003.
On 27th January, 2006, he received Chirmule Award for his outstanding contribution to the Indian Agriculture.
As a youth he sacrificed and put his life at stake in the Freedom struggle in 1947 for which the President of India have recognized this selfless contribution on 9th August 2006.
On 16th June, 2007, he received Honorary Fellowship Award from The Indian Society for Cotton Improvement
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University has conferred honorary D. Lit. Award on January 23, 2010
Along with his 1998 World Food Prize, these honors pay tribute to Dr. Barwale’s lifetime of dedication to constructing a strong economy and healthy workforce capable of sustaining food production for generations to come.