The World Food Prize Foundation

World Food Prize Foundation Pays Tribute to First World Food Prize Laureate M.S. Swaminathan


On behalf of all of the World Food Prize Laureates and our Council of Advisors, the World Food Prize Foundation extends our deepest condolences to Madhura, Soumya, Nitya, and the colleagues of Dr. Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, the 1987 World Food Prize Laureate, who passed away on September 28, 2023. 

Hailed as the Father of the Indian Green Revolution, Dr. Swaminathan was honored as our first-ever Laureate in 1987 for his outstanding efforts to eradicate food insecurity in India and globally. Dr. Swaminathan embodied everything the World Food Prize represents, serving as a scientist, academic, diplomat and humanitarian. The effects of his work can be seen in the fields and bowls of impoverished people worldwide.

Ambassador Terry Branstad, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, celebrated the outstanding accomplishments of Dr. Swaminathan and his impact on society, stating, “Growing up near Dr. Norman Borlaug’s birthplace in northeast Iowa, I learned a great appreciation for the life-saving work of Dr. Borlaug and his greatest collaborator, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan. As the Governor of Iowa, where agriculture and agricultural scientists are held in high regard, it was my particular privilege and pleasure to meet and speak with Dr. Swaminathan on his many visits to our state. I will forever remember not only his great achievements which saved millions from starvation, but also his warm humanitarian spirit.”

Mashal Husain, Chief Operating Officer, World Food Prize Foundation, said, “Dr. M.S. Swaminathan was a rare individual whose great contributions to science and humanity were rivaled only by his hope for an even greater future. One of his favorite activities on his annual visits to Iowa was working with the students in the Global Youth Institute, and he personally mentored the Borlaug-Ruan International Interns who did their research at MSSRF. His care and enthusiasm for teaching and uplifting young people is inspiring to us every day.”

Along with the inaugural World Food Prize, Dr. Swaminathan received many recognitions throughout his life, including:

  • the Padma Shri (1967), 

  • the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership (1971), 

  • the Padma Bhushan (1972), 

  • the Albert Einstein World Science Award (1986), 

  • the Padma Vibushan (1989), 

  • the United Nations Environment and Programme Sasakawa Environment Prize (1994), 

  • the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Gandhi Gold Medal (1999), 

  • the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development (1999), 

  • the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award (2000) and 

  • the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award (2007). 

Dr. Swaminathan was also named one of Time Magazine’s 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century, one of only three Indians on that list, the others being Mahatma Gandhi and 1913 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rabindranath Tagore.

During his life, Dr. Swaminathan served in many roles that shaped food and agriculture systems in India and the world over. He was the Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (1972-1979), the Principal Secretary of the Indian Ministry of Agriculture (1979-1980), Member in Charge of Agriculture and Rural Development in India’s Planning Commission (1980-1982) and Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (1982-1988). He served the United Nations as the Chair of the UN Food Congress (1974), President of the Pugwash Conferences (2002) and the Hunger Task Force Coordinator of the UN Millennium Project (2002).

Perhaps most impressively, Dr. Swaminathan used the World Food Prize's financial award of $200,000 to establish the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in 1989, where he served as Chairman since its inception. From its beginning, MSSRF has done extensive research for rural development and is revered for its "pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-women" model of sustainability. The organization has helped countless people, especially women, and stands as a lasting humanitarian keystone of Dr. Swaminathan's legacy.

Dr. Swaminathan had an especially close relationship with World Food Prize Founder, Dr. Norman Borlaug. He was the first to realize the potential of Dr. Borlaug’s work in Mexico with wheat and its applicability in India during the early 1960s. Dr. Swaminathan prompted the Indian government to request Dr. Borlaug’s presence and some of his high-yielding, disease-resistant seeds in the face of a potential famine. Working together, their contributions turned India from “the world's begging bowl” to “the world’s breadbasket.” 

As he received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work advancing peace through agriculture, Dr. Borlaug said in his acceptance speech, “The Green Revolution has been a team effort, and much of the credit for its spectacular development must go to Indian officials, organizations, scientists and farmers. However, to you, Dr. Swaminathan, a great deal of the credit must go for first recognizing the potential value of the Mexican dwarfs [wheat]. Had this not occurred, it is quite possible that there would not have been a Green Revolution in Asia.”

In recognition of Dr. Borlaug’s great regard for him, and as the Prize’s first Laureate, Dr. Swaminathan was chosen to succeed Dr. Borlaug as Chair of the World Food Prize Laureate Selection Committee, on which he served from 2007 to 2017. Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, 2009 Laureate, who succeeded him as Chair of the Selection Committee in 2018, said, “Dr. M.S. Swaminathan has had an extraordinary service and impact on science for development and in the fight against global hunger and malnutrition. I had the honor and privilege of serving as his deputy as a member of the World Food Prize Selection Committee that he chaired for several years. I witnessed a man of great wisdom, grace, humility and kindness at work. Another great giant has fallen, and the world of food and agriculture is diminished by his passing.”

Upon receiving the World Food Prize in 1987, Dr. Swaminathan shared his dream with those gathered with him to celebrate: “We live in an age of unparalleled opportunity for promoting sustainable nutrition security. The prospect for a world without hunger is a glorious legacy given to our contemporary world by scientists and technologists; communicators and social scientists; administrators and industrialists; and workers in factories, fields, forests, pastures, rivers and oceans. As we depart for dinner this evening, what could be more satisfying and joyful than knowing that every other member of the human family will also go to bed after a nourishing meal.” 

In recognition of his receiving the Prize, United States President Ronald Reagan sent his congratulations in a letter to Dr. Swaminathan, saying, “... your efforts have made a dramatic and lasting impact on improving the world food supply. I also applaud your outstanding work in India, where you earned the well-deserved title of ‘Father of the Green Revolution,’ and your continued efforts to pioneer the field of agricultural research at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. You can be proud of these accomplishments in addition to the dignity and self-reliance you have helped bring to the people you have served.”

Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India and close friend of Dr. Swaminathan, echoed these sentiments, stating, “I should like to express my appreciation of your work in India and also tell you how much we shall miss you. You have made significant contributions to our scientific and economic policy making. Your role in the strengthening of our agricultural base is not inconsiderable. To your tasks in the Planning Commission, you brought deep concern for the nation’s realities besides the intellectual discipline of a scientist.”

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President Emeritus, World Food Prize Foundation, said, “M. S. Swaminathan, a son of India and a bold visionary, inspired by Gandhi, truly did ‘Change the World.’ As such, he will always have a rarefied place in the pantheon of our planet’s most distinguished agricultural scientists and greatest humanitarian heroes.”

“From India to Iowa and around the globe, the thousands, no millions, who have been touched by his innovative scientific prowess, his insightful policy recommendations and his inspirational humanitarian spirit are joining in mourning his loss and celebrating his century-long leadership in confronting poverty, reducing hunger and uplifting the poorest farmers, the great majority of them women, while sustaining the environment for future generations.”

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