Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan (born 7 August 1925) is an Indian geneticist and administrator, known for his role in India's Green Revolution, a program under which high-yield varieties of wheat and rice were planted. Swaminathan has been called the "Father of Green Revolution in India" for his role in introducing and further developing high-yielding varieties of wheat in India. He is the founder of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation. His stated vision is to rid the world of hunger and poverty. Swaminathan is an advocate of moving India to sustainable development, especially using environmentally sustainable agriculture, sustainable food security and the preservation of biodiversity, which he calls an "evergreen revolution."
M. S. Swaminathan was born in Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu on 7 August 1925. He was the second son of surgeon Dr. M.K. Sambasivan and Parvati Thangammal Sambasivan. Swaminathan learnt from his father, "that the word 'impossible' exists mainly in our minds and that given the requisite will and effort, great tasks can be accomplished." M.K. Sambasivam, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, took the lead in Kumbakonam in "burning his foreign clothes," a symbolic act in support of the Swadeshi movement: which emphasized the use of Indian rather than foreign-made clothes, and handloomed rather than mill-spun cloth. The political purpose of the swadeshi movement was to free India from dependence on foreign imports and to protect village industry. His father led in opening the temples to Dalits, part of the temple entry movement of the Indian independence movement in Tamil Nadu, and in eradicating filariasis in Kumbakonom, an area long infected with the dreaded disease. The sense of service to one's fellow man was thus ingrained in him early.
After his father's death when he was 11, young Swaminathan was looked after by his uncle, M. K. Narayanaswami, a radiologist. He attended the local high school and later the Catholic Little Flower High School in Kumbakonom, from which he matriculated at age 15. Coming from a family of doctors, he naturally took admission in a medical school. But, when he witnessed the Great Bengal famine of 1943, he decided to devote his life for getting rid of hunger from India. He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi while he took this decision. He simply switched from the medical field to the agricultural field. He then went on to finish his undergraduate degree at Maharaja's College in Trivandrum, Kerala (now known as University College, Thiruvananthapuram). He studied there from 1940–44 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology.
M.S. Swaminathan is married to Mina Swaminathan, whom he met in 1951 while they were both studying at Cambridge. They live in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. They have three daughters and five grandchildren. Their daughters are Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the Deputy Director General of World Health Organization, Dr. Madhura Swaminathan, who is a Professor of Economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore and Nitya Swaminathan, a Senior Lecturer in Gender Analysis and Development at the University of East Anglia. Swaminathan and Mina have 5 grandchildren.
Swaminathan then decided to pursue a career in agricultural sciences. He enrolled in Madras Agricultural College (now the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University) where he graduated as valedictorian with another Bachelor of Science degree, this time in Agricultural Science. He explained this career decision thus: "My personal motivation started with the great [Bengal famine of 1943], when I was a student at the University of Kerala. There was an acute rice shortage, and in Bengal about 3 million people died from starvation. All of our young people, myself included, were involved in the freedom struggle, which Gandhi had intensified, and I decided I should take to agricultural research in order to help farmers produce more."
He chose to accept the UNESCO Fellowship to continue his IARI research on potato genetics at the Wageningen Agricultural University, Institute of Genetics in the Netherlands. Here he succeeded in standardising procedures for transferring genes from a wide range of wild species of Solanum to the cultivated potato, Solanum tuberosum. In 1950, he moved to study at the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Cambridge School of Agriculture. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in 1952, for his thesis, "Species Differentiation, and the Nature of Polyploidy in certain species of the genus Solanum – section Tuberarium." His work presented a new concept of the species relationships within the tuber-bearing Solanum. His Cambridge college, Fitzwilliam, made him an Honorary Fellow in 2014.
Swaminathan then accepted a post-doctoral research associateship at the University of Wisconsin, Department of Genetics to help set up a USDA potato research station. Despite his strong personal and professional satisfaction with the research work in Wisconsin, he declined the offer of a full-time faculty position, returning to India in early 1954.
Swaminathan has worked worldwide in collaboration with colleagues and students on a wide range of problems in basic and applied plant breeding, agricultural research and development and the conservation of natural resources.
His professional career began in 1949:
1949–55 – Research on potato (Solanum tuberosum), wheat (Triticum aestivum), rice (Oryza sativa), and jute genetics.
1955–72 – Field research on Mexican dwarf wheat varieties. Teach Cytogenetics, Radiation Genetics, and Mutation Breeding and build up the wheat and rice germplasm collections at Indian Agricultural Research Institute IARI.
1972–79 – Director-General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), established the National Bureau of Plant, Animal, and Fish Genetic Resources of India. Established the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (changed in 2006 to Bioversity International).
1979–80 – Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Transformed the Pre-investment Forest Survey Programme into the Forest Survey of India.
1986–99 – Chairman of the editorial advisory board, World Resources Institute, Washington, D. C., conceived and produced the first "World Resources Report."
1988–91 – Chairman of the International Steering Committee of the Keystone International Dialogue on Plant Genetic Resources, regarding the availability, use, exchange and protection of plant germplasm.
1991–1995 – Member, Governing Board, Auroville Foundation
1988–96 – President, World Wide Fund for Nature–India WWF, Organized the Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre. Organize the Community Biodiversity Conservation Programme.
1988–99 – Chairman/Trustee, Commonwealth Secretariat Expert Group, organised the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, for the sustainable and equitable management of tropical rainforests in Guyana. The President of Guyana wrote in 1994 "there would have been no Iwokrama without Swaminathan."
1990–93 – Founder/President, International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems (ISME)
1988–98 – Chaired various committees of the Government of India to prepare draft legislations relating to biodiversity (Biodiversity Act) and breeders’ and farmers’ rights (Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act).
in 1993 Dr M. S. Swaminathan, headed an expert group to prepare a draft of a national population policy that would be discussed by the Cabinet and then by Parliament. In 1994 it submitted its report.
1994 – Chairman of the Commission on Genetic Diversity of the World Humanity Action Trust. Established a Technical Resource Centre at MSSRF for the implementation of equity provisions of CBD and FAO's Farmers’ Rights.
2002 – 2005 – Co-chairman with Pedro Sanchezof the UN Millennium Task Force on Hunger, a comprehensive global action plan for fighting poverty, disease and environmental degradation in developing countries.
Over 68 students have done their PhD thesis work under his guidance.
On the occasion of the presentation of the First World Food Prize to Swaminathan in October 1987, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote: "Dr. Swaminathan is a living legend. His contributions to Agricultural Science have made an indelible mark on food production in India and elsewhere in the developing world. By any standards, he will go into the annals of history as a world scientist of rare distinction."
He was one of three from India included in Time magazine's 1999 list of the "20 most influential Asian people of the 20th century," the other two being Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
Swaminathan was the featured speaker at the 2006 Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa on, 19 October 2006. He was sponsored by Humanities Iowa, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Swaminathan presented the "Third Annual Governor's Lecture" and spoke on "THE GREEN REVOLUTION REDUX: Can we replicate the single greatest period of food production in all human history?" about the cultural and social foundations of the Green Revolution in India and the role of historic leaders in India, such as Mahatma Gandhi, in inspiring the Green Revolution there by calling for the alleviation of widespread hunger. He talked about the links between Gandhi and the great Iowa scientist George Washington Carver.
Dr Swaminathan is a prolific scientific researcher and writer. He published 46 single-author papers between 1950 and 1980. Out of 118 two author papers, he was first author of 80. Out of 63 three-author papers he was first author of 15. Out of 21 four-author papers he was first author of 9. In total he had 254 papers to his credit, 155 of which he was the single or first author. His scientific papers are in the fields of crop improvement (95), cytogenetics and genetics (87) and phylogenetics (72). His most frequent publishers were Indian Journal of Genetics (46), Current Science (36), Nature (12) and Radiation Botany (12). Some of the papers are listed below.
In addition he has written a few books on the general theme of his life's work, biodiversity and sustainable agriculture for alleviation of hunger.
A scientific paper in which Swaminathan and his team claimed to have produced a mutant breed of wheat by gamma irradiation of a Mexican variety (Sonora 64) resulting in Sharbati Sonora claimed to have a very high lysine content led to a major controversy. The case was discussed as a classic example of scientific misdemeanor and was claimed to be an error made by the laboratory assistant. The episode was also compounded by the suicide of an agricultural scientist. Recent workers have studied it as part of a systemic problem in Indian agriculture research.
Four Freedoms Award for demonstrating achievement of the principles of Freedom of speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from want and Freedom from fear, 2000
Planet and Humanity Medal of the International Geographical Union awarded "in recognition of his unique success in outstanding scientific research and its application, leading to Asia's Green Revolution. 2000
UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize Laureate for outstanding contributions to the protection and management of the environment. Co – winner with Paul and Anne Ehrlich 1994, $200,000 (1,20,00,000 indian rupees)prize.
The Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement "in recognition of life-long contributions to increasing biological productivity on an ecologically sustainable basis, and to promoting the conservation of biological diversity" 1991
Honda Prize, for achieving outstanding results in the field of ecotechnology, 1991
Borlaug Award, given by Coromandel Fertilizers in profound appreciation of his catalytic role in providing deep insights and inspiring fellow scientists to set goals ... for evolving a strategy for agriculture rooted in science, but tempered by a concern for ecology and human values 1979
Lokmanya Tilak Award by the Tilak Smarak Trust, in recognition of his contribution to the green revolution in India and for his outstanding scientific and environmental works. 2001
Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development in recognition of creative efforts toward promoting international peace, development and a new international economic order; ensuring that scientific discoveries are used for the larger good of humanity, and enlarging the scope of freedom. 2000
Krishi Ratna Award for "devotion to the cause of agroscience, and for being the benefactor of the farming community," instituted by the Bharat Krishak Samaj (Indian Farmer's Society)/World Agriculture Fair Memorial Trust Society, and presented by president Giani Zail Singh of India 1986
He has been honoured with recognition from several international organisations for spreading the benefits of his work to other countries.
UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Gold Medal for his outstanding work in extending the benefits of biotechnology to marginalised and poverty-stricken populations in developing countries and in securing a sound basis for sustainable agricultural, environmental and rural development 1999
Henry Shaw Medal awarded by the Board of Trustees of the Missouri Botanical Garden in consideration of important service to humanity through emphasis on sustainability in agriculture – USA 1998
Ordre du Merite Agricole, Govt of France to honour services of the highest quality rendered to the cause of agriculture 1997
Highest award for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, Govt of China for outstanding contributions to the lofty cause of environmental protection and development, and for his signal accomplishments in the field of international cooperation 1997
Global Environmental Leadership Award "for encouraging village-level responses to environmental issues" by the Climate Institute 1995
World Academy of Art and Science 1994
Asian Regional Award by the Asian Productivity Organization APO 1994
Charles Darwin International Science and Environment Medal 1993
Commandeur of the Order of the Golden Ark of the Netherlands 1990
The VOLVO Environment Prize for his outstanding research and devoted work in turning Indian food production from a deficit to a much increased supply. 1990.
Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) international award for significant contributions to promoting the knowledge, skill, and technological empowerment of women in agriculture and for his pioneering role in mainstreaming gender considerations in agriculture and rural development 1985.
Despite these awards and honours, a few question the credibility of Swaminathan's promotion of biotechnology. In 1967 Swaminathan published a paper on a variety called Sharbati Sonora which he claimed had more lysine than the Mexican strains from which it was derived. It was re-examined by CIMMYT and found in 1969 to be incorrect. In 1972 Vinod Shah, an agronomist at the ICAR committed suicide and claimed that Swaminathan collected poor quality data to support his ideas. A committee was set up and an investigation was conducted into the Sharbati Sonora case. It was determined that someone had intentionally altered the value of the lysine content so that Sharbati Sonora was viewed positively. The report of the committee noted that it was not an isolated incident and that such practice "pervades the entire scientific and academic community in this country.
He is currently spearheading a movement to bridge the Digital divide called, "Mission 2007: Every Village a Knowledge Centre".
Bruce Alberts, President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences said of Dr. Swaminathan: "At 80, M.S. retains all the energy and idealism of his youth, and he continues to inspire good behavior and more idealism from millions of his fellow human beings on this Earth. For that, we can all be thankful".
M. S. Swaminathan is also a member of the Leadership Council of Compact2025, a partnership that develops and disseminates evidence-based advice to politicians and other decision-makers aimed at ending hunger and undernutrition in the coming 10 years.
"Biodiversity and Poverty – Natural Resources and the Millennium Goals", M.S. Swaminathan speech and a discussion, University of Berne, Auditorium Maximum, Wednesday, 24 August 2005.Speech, Full text:
An insightful biography, "M.S. Swaminathan – One Man's Quest for a Hunger-Free World" was written in 2002 by Gita Gopalakrishnan, Education Development Center (EDC), Sri Venkatesa Printing House, Chennai, pp. 132 ISBN81-7276-260-7Full text:.
To learn the most about M. S. Swaminathan, the book to read is: "Scientist and Humanist: M.S. Swaminathan" by R.D. Iyer, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 2002. pp. 245 Excerpt with photos
"The Man Who Harvests Sunshine – The Modern Gandhi: M. S. Swaminathan." Andréi Erdélyi. Tertia Kiadó, H-1158, Budapest, Kubelsberg Kunóu36,
^UNDP, UNEP, The World Bank, World Resources Institute, "World Resources 2005 – The Wealth of the Poor: Managing ecosystems to fight poverty", 2005.
"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
^Final Consensus Report of the Keystone International Dialogue Series on Plant Genetic Resources: Madras Plenary Session, February 1990, Report # 27 [permanent dead link]
^REPORT OF AN "AD HOC" INTER AGENCY CONSULTATION ON PROMOTING CO-OPERATION ON THE CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABLE USE OF WILD PLANTS OF IMPORTANCE FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE PARIS, FRANCE, 11–13 February 1998, p.7 
Commonwealth and Government of Guyana Establish International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, 9 November 1995."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 July 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
^"Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, "The Establishment of Iwokrama Forest"
"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 June 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
^World Food Prize Symposium (19 October 2006), Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, Des Moines, Iowa, retrieved 22 March 2007."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 July 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
^Kalyane, V. L. and Kalyane, S. V. (1994) Scientometric portrait of M. S. Swaminathan. Library Science 31(1): pp. 31–46. "Archived copy"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 30 June 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
^Suresh, N, BioSpectrum Awards 2003, The search for Biotech greats, 12 December 2003."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 May 2006. Retrieved 27 February 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
^The Volvo Environment Prize Foundation, The 1990 Volvo Environment Prize awarded to Dr. M. S. Swaminathan "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 August 2007. Retrieved 27 February 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
^"NAAS Fellow". National Academy of Agricultural Sciences. 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
^UNESCO, UNITWIN, Chairs Programme, Directory, India, 104 AEN, UNESCO-Cousteau Ecotechnie Chair/The Asian Ecotechnology Network, 1996, p.463.
^National Commission on Farmers, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India "Archived copy"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 30 June 2007. Retrieved 28 February 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)