MS Swaminathan, 87, known as the Father of the Green Revolution, was the driving force behind the transformation of the agriculture sector that saw Punjab and Haryana emerge as India's food bowl and helped end dependence on foreign aid. Dr Swaminathan, acclaimed by Time magazine as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century, spoke with Navneet Sharma about the slow agriculture growth and 'evergreen revolution'.
Why has the Green Revolution stagnated?
I call it fatigue of the Green Revolution. There are ecological and economic reasons for it, apart from technology. Groundwater has been overexploited; there is soil degradation; and input costs are going up. Over 80% farms are small in size, which means family incomes have gone down. Farmers are not able to invest in their land. And we have not worked on small farm management systems. There is scientific stagnation.
What is the way forward?
Our population is growing and no country can help us like the US did in the '60s. We have to grow more. A new approach is required for an 'evergreen revolution'. We need technologies that can help farmers to improve productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm. The Green Revolution was possible because of synergy between technology, public policy and farmers' enthusiasm. We need more investments and research. Post-harvest management requires attention; spoilage is high.
Is crop diversification an answer to the crisis in Punjab?
Finance minister P Chidambaram has earmarked funds for crop diversification in his budget. The farmers should be given options; but assured remunerative marketing is the key. We should look at the income of farmers. The contribution of agriculture to GDP has gone below 14%, even though 60% of the population is dependent on it.
Punjab's farmers are being advised to shift from rice (paddy). Do you think it is a sound strategy?
We do not need to ask the farmers to give up rice. They can be advised to go into for three-year rotation or opt for cereals with legumes. If they stop rice cultivation, the public distribution system will collapse. Andhra Pradesh has some surplus. West Bengal can contribute more. Punjab, Haryana and western UP region has been the heartland of the Green Revolution and will have to be the custodian of our national food security system for years to come. The region needs urgent attention to arrest the fatigue and promote an evergreen revolution.