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US to fete Father of Green Revolution

July 14, 2007 03:08 IST

Dr Norman Borlaug, considered to be the father of the Green Revolution of the 60s, will be honored with the United States' highest civilian honour, the Congressional Gold Medal.

He was presented with the Padma Vibhushan in 2006.

The US Congress has invited Dr C S Swaminathan, who worked along with Borlaug during the days of India's Green Revolution, to introduce him.

US President George Bush will speak after Swaminathan and Borlaug.

Swaminathan was in Canada for three days at the invitation of the Indo-Canadian Shastri Institute and he delivered a lecture on 'Biodiversity, Biotechnology and Food Security" at Ontario's McMaster University.

The top agricultural scientist, now the chairman of  India's  National Commission on Farmers and already nominated as Member of the Rajya Sabha, said "It would be quite a pleasure for me to enter the Capital Hill for the first time and introduce Dr Borlaug, now 94". 

The invitation to Swaminathan is also a recognition of the enormous work for the scientist, who has gone round the world and helped farmers and policy makers all over. 

In 2006, Borlaug was presented the Padma Vibhushan at a formal ceremony held at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

That award, he said in a subsequent interview, took him back to 1965, when India was on the verge of famine.  It was then that he started working with Swminathan and other Indian scientists, also Mexican scientists, to introduce high yielding varieties of wheat in India. 

He said he had to work with a large number of people, especially Swaminathan, who was then the head of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.  "I worked with three Ss in India to make the Green Revolution happen -- Swaminathan, Subramaniam (the then Minister of Food and Agriculture) and Siva Raman (the then secretary of the ministry)."

But Borlaug is pessimistic about the current scenario. He believes food production in India is declining or at least is not keeping pace with the needs of the increasing population and a Second Green Revolution is not possible.

Swaminathan, though, disagrees with his 94-year friend.  "The second Green Revolution is possible if certain conditions are met," he said.  "In the early 1960s four things came together -- technology, farmers' confidence, government policy, input and output prices."

He said "There's no second green revolution as there's no new technology, and technology without public policy support would not be successful.  In the 1960s public policy and farmers' enthusiasm came together and so we can repeat it provided all these factors -- technology, machinery and public policy fatigue in terms of market once again come together."

Today, there are 200-million hungry people in the country and this is 20 percent of the world's starving population.  As many as 50-million children are malnourished in India, Swaminathan. "We had 60-million tons of wheat and rice in reserves in warehouses of Food Corporation of India in 2001-02.  That stock has dwindled to 10-15 million tons.  So, there's the talk of import of 5-million tons of food from outside, a decision that the government may not be easily able to justify to the farmers."

There are widespread reports of suicide by farmers in at least four states -- Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra -- because of their desperate economic conditions.

Even the Canadian daily, Globe and Mail, carried a front page report this week claiming Indian "farmers have become suicidal as they face smaller yields and bigger debts".

As the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers, Swaminathan agrees there are these suicide cases because of desperate economic conditions of farmers who are engaged in dry farming, in Vidharbha Region of Maharahstra for example.

He attributed this to the fragmented policies of the government to the bad state of agriculture and also due to over-exploitation of soil by farmers. 

"The production hasn't significantly declined but it's not keeping pace with the population growth." Population is growing at about 2 percent while the food production is growing at 1.5 to 1.6 percent.

Borlaug claimed that India is once again facing food shortages. He said while food production is not keeping pace with the growth in population -- a fact with which Swaminathan also agrees -- more and more people are now becoming economically affluent and these people are eating more food and wasting more food.

Swaminathan disagrees with this rationale: "People with more money are eating less of chapatis and rice and eating more animal food, more fruits, more salad."

He concluded by suggesting that in part of the world farming cannot be successful without active public policy and financial support from the government in terms of subsidies to the farmers.  In this respect he complimented the US Administration.  "Even the European Parliament spends most of its time discussing agriculture and food policies and help to the farmers."

Swaminathan would like powers to be given to the Panchayats to plan agricultural policies and not left it to the bureaucrats.

All said, it would be pleasing for Swaminathan and Borlaug, the world's best-known agricultural scientists, to meet once again next Tuesday under such happy circumstances, one receiving the Congressional Gold medal and other telling Members of the Congress and the Senators all what Borlaug has done to save the lives of millions of people, not only in India but many, many other countries by introducing high yielding varieties of seeds and helping increase food productions of those countries.

Ajit Jain in Toronto