Genetic editing Technology would replace GMOs for Agricultural Advancement
Rural & Marketing|April 2017

In a candid interview with Tafeem Siddiqui, Father of Green Revolution MS Swaminathan says the government should invest more public sector research which is transforming agriculture and gene editing technology is the new mantra for higher productivity

Son of a renowned surgeon (medical practitioner) envisaged to carry forward the legacy, but nature had different plans. How and why you become involved in food and agricultural issues?

Yes, my family has a medical background. My father, MK Sambasivan was a medical doctor, my daughter, Soumya Swaminathan is the head of Indian Council of Medical Research. I too was studying medical science. Then a number of problems came into my way. My family was a Gandhian family. My father was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi ji also stayed in my father’s house when he used visit my place Kumbakonam. Just after Gandhi ji's Quit India Movement in 1942, in 1943-44, there was big famine in Bengal. Gandhi ji said, those who are hungry, God is bread. Therefore, we must see the God resides in every home and family. So I decided to get into agriculture. I changed my admission to the Coimbatore Agriculture College. Now it’s called Tamil Nadu Agriculture University. It was a momentary decision for me, useful for independent years. One thing was clear during 1943-44 that we are going to get independence soon. Science was there, but the question was what one can do for his country. After my B.Sc, I did my post graduate work in plant breeding and genetics from Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi.

How has the Gandhian ideology influenced your thoughts and actions towards agriculture?

Mahatma Gandhi’s Swadeshi philosophy was the most influential element for me to choose agriculture. For food security for all, we needed to be self sufficient in food which can only come through agriculture. That’s how I went into agriculture. After B.Sc from Pusa Institute (IARI), I chose my career as agricultural research in plant breeding and genetics for developing new varieties of rice and wheat so that people of my country can benefit from it. Then, I got admission into Wageningen University & Research Centre, Netherlands. Then, did my PhD in Cambridge. Came back to India and joined National Rice Research Institute, Cuttuck. Then, there has been a long career.

The much-celebrated Green Revolution and biotechnology off late came under sharp criticism across geography and intelligentsia; as environmentalist, economist, NGO’s etc. Rachel Carson in her book ‘Silent Spring’ elucidated the damage owing to excessive and indiscriminate use of fertilisers and pesticide, further there were allegations and censures from economists because technologies are not resource neutral. Do these condemnations carry any weight? 

The major areas of criticism of Green Revolution are inputs and ecological issues. Inputs such as fertilisers, seeds, water for higher productivity are limited for people with adequate resources. The technology is not resource neutral, but can be scaled neutral. It can be applied by any farmer. If we have new variety of rice or wheat, it is not limited to the large farmers who have money. The small and marginal farmers do matter. They can get benefit out of it. It is not limited to the large farmers who have money. The second criticism was the ecological aspects of agriculture. Higher use of fertilisers, pesticides, and overdrawn of groundwater. But, I dealt with this in my lecture in Science Congress in 1968. I was the president of agriculture section of that Congress. There are two ways to address it. As far as resources are concerned, we told the government that it should start a programme for small and marginal farmers on providing credit for inputs. Fortunately, that time there was a good minister, C Subramaniam.

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