Friday, August 14, 2015

Connections to the Green Revolution

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the Indian "Father of the Green Revolution" turned 90 last week.

In a tribute published in the Indian Express, it was interesting to note the cross-border connections and linkages that led up to the revolution in Indian agriculture, which turned the country from a basket case to a net exporter of foodgrains.

I had always thought that it was Norman Borlaugh who was at the drivers seat. Now it turns out that it was MSS who set the bus-routes in the fist place!

Consider the sequence of events:
  • In 1950, Japan, a nation obsessed with rice production, comes up with a hybrid variety of wheat - Norin-10 - a semi-dwarf with large grain bearing panicles or earheads.
  • Samples of Norin-10 collected by Samuel Cecil Salmon, an agronomist under American occupation, and taken to USA
  • At Washington State University, Samuel Vogel uses Norin-10 to breed a winter wheat, Gaines containing Norin-10 dwarfing genes and giving very high yeilds
  • MSS requests Vogel for Gaines seeds. He gets them with a suggestion to contact Norman Borlaugh who was working on spring-wheat (more suitable to India) using the same genes in Mexico
  • In 1963 Boulaugh brings his best Mexican dwarfs - Sonora-64 and Lerma Rojo 64 - to India, helps breed blockbuster wheat varieties that launched the Green Revolution - Kalyan Sona, Sonalika, Arjun, Janak, HD-2285 and HD-2239. Ditto for rice - Jaya, Padma, IR-8
So, essentially, India owes its Green Revolution to MSS and his connections to the open networks created by the higher education system in USA. It is worth noting that it was not a Japanese wheat scientist who noticed that his innovation could have applications in India, nor was it an American conducting field trails in Mexico. It had to be an Indian tuned to the outside world, seeking solutions to local problems.

Do we have a new generation of people like MSS who are tuned in to the networks and linkages that would help India solve its most critical problems?


* Damodaran, Harish (2015): A Living Legend: Swaminathan@90 --

* Origin, History and Uses of Norin-10 Wheat -

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