On the eve of his 96th birthday, eminent agricultural scientist and known to most as the father of India’s green revolution, MS Swaminathan spent the day discussing a topic that is close to his heart. An ardent advocate of sustainable agriculture, he had his eponymous research foundation invite experts to deliberate on “Ensuring Food and Nutrition Security in the Context of Climate Change and the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
While the event, organised in Chennai on Friday, August 6th, had a high-profile attendance and an inauguration by Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin, the highlight to many, was still the introductory remarks by MS Swaminathan himself.
Corona, Swaminathan said, “has been a great threat not only to life and property but also farms and farming.” To him, “a farmer-based agriculture is the need of the hour and therefore (the need to) promote farm women and farm men-based agriculture.” Despite the progress that has been made with many public and private initiatives to engage with the farmers, he does refer to a hard-to-ignore fact: “when we travel in the countryside we can see that most of the work in agriculture is done by rural women and men. They need greater technical support. They also need assured and remunerative marketing facilities.”
A plant geneticist by training, the founder chairman of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, however, did underline a firm belief in the learning-by-doing abilities and the adaptability of a farmer. He said, “at this Foundation, we believe that every farmer is a scientist. Farmers are endowed with long experience of dealing with nature. They will try to advance the cause of production and productivity in a very effective way. I, therefore, feel happy that at this meeting we have not only scientists and scientific skills, but also farmers, and in addition the political leader. The political leader, farmer and scientists can make a great contribution to the wellbeing of our country.”
Also speaking at the event, was Swaminathan’s daughter and the chief scientist at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Soumya Swaminathan. She apparently could not help but refer to one of her biggest concerns at the moment and said, “we are in the middle of a global pandemic due to a tiny invisible virus that has wreaked a lot of havoc in all our lives and mainly affecting the more vulnerable sections of the society and particularly the women and children.” Therefore, her interventions that can address these could be crucial.
COVID-19 & Health
She congratulated the government of Tamil Nadu for launching “Makkalai Thedi Maruthuvam,” a programme to take healthcare to the doorsteps of the people. Included under this initiative are aspects like screening people for diabetes, high- blood pressure and to also provide them with treatment. She found a measure such as this as an important step towards universal health coverage. “COVID-19 has not only made people unwell but the side-effect has been the health services getting disrupted in the majority of countries around the world. This, she said, included routine immunisation, antenatal and postnatal care, check on non-communicable diseases.
She also agreed with Gernot Laganda, chief of Climate Disaster Risk Reduction Program, UN – World Food Program, Bangkok, on his emphasis on prevention. Both from the perspective of climate change, as also health, she felt it was important to look closely at the link between agriculture and nutrition aided by sustainable and scientific agricultural practices that invest in high nutrition but also ensuring that the farmers themselves are able to get a dietary diversity that is both healthy and nutritious – factors crucial for better immunity. For that alone could arm them to better resist not just corona but even other types of infections.