#RememberingBorlaug at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
One major global issue that continues to pose a challenge is persistent hunger and poverty. Dr. Norman E. Borlaug’s path-breaking work to address the problem of world hunger led to the green revolution in India. Professor M. S. Swaminathan, founder of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the first recipient of the World Food Prize, worked closely with Dr. Norman Borlaug to usher in the green revolution and food security for India’s population.
MSSRF organised a photo exhibition and discussion on #RememberingBorlaug at its campus in Chennai on Monday 25 March, to commemorate the 105th birth anniversary of Dr. Borlaug. About fifty scientists and MSSRF staff members attended the two hour programme. Professor Swaminathan, scientists from MSSRF and the Regional Station of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) at Wellington spoke on the occasion.
It was the proceeds of the World Food Prize that laid the building block for MSSRF, and the Foundation continues to have a close association with the World Food Prize (WFP) Foundation. Dr. N. Anil Kumar, Executive Director of MSSRF, initiated the programme remembering Dr. Borlaug and highlighting how his work saved millions of people from hunger. Recalling Dr. Borlaug’s journey in the green revolution in India, he said that, as Professor Swaminathan often says, we have to work to defend the gains of the green revolution, address the shortcomings of the green revolution, take the benefits of the green revolution to newer areas and move towards the evergreen revolution for sustainability. He emphasised the three pillars of ecological sustainability, economic viability and social equity for an evergreen revolution.
Prof M S Swaminathan recalled Dr. Borlaug as having played a key role in the agricultural transformation of many countries and reminisced about his own close association with him and their work together in India. He highlighted four fundamental changes Dr. Borlaug made that paved the way for the green revolution, viz., his emphasis on public good research benefitting millions and how to take technology to the poor farmer; his emphasis on using sunlight in the best possible way to enable a higher harvest index through photosynthesis and higher yield; introduction of the shuttle breeding method which is an important breeding method now; and finally, his efforts in getting public policy support for agricultural research. He said Dr. Borlaug always encouraged youth to contribute their best to agriculture, and this was the spirit behind the youth internship programme of the WFP Foundation. Prof Swaminathan highlighted the human qualities of Dr. Borlaug, saying that science for public good was always his main consideration.
Dr. M Sivaswamy, Principal Scientist and Head of the IARI Regional Station of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) at Wellington, recalled that the first batch of seeds that were brought from Mexico were sown in Wellington for multiplication, paving the way for the green revolution in India. He made a presentation on sixty-five years of research contribution of the centre. He highlighted a key intervention made by Dr. Borlaug to ensure the centre’s continued existence by writing to the Prime Minister of India in the 1990s, as the centre is located on land belonging to the defence services and there was a proposal to shut it down. Dr. V K Vikas, scientist at the Wellington station, made a presentation of their work on Triticum dicoccum, or Emmer wheat, highlighting the nutritional properties and health benefits of the crop.
Dr. M Velayutham, a renowned soil scientist and former Executive Director of MSSRF shared an insight to Dr Borlaug with regard to soil health. He observed that Dr Borlaug’s “life and work was an inspiration and his memory is a benediction!”
Dr. R Rengalakshmi, Director of Ecotechnology at MSSRF, shared the experience of MSSRF in hosting Borlaug-Ruan Interns every year. MSSRF has been a partner in the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship programme of the WFP Foundation right from the beginning and has hosted twenty interns so far. Dr. E D Israel Oliver King, Principal Scientist at MSSRF, shared his experience of participating in the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium with global leaders in science, industry and policy; attending the World Food Prize award ceremony; visiting the WFP Hall of Laureates; and also meeting some of the interns who had interned with MSSRF, in Des Moines, Iowa, in October 2018.