The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is deeply saddened by the passing of world-renowned scientist and former Chair of the IWMI Board of Trustees, Dr. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan. Dr. Swaminathan was widely regarded as the father of India’s Green Revolution and is rightly held as the gold standard in commitment to both agricultural research and sustainable development. He was a truly groundbreaking pioneer whose work ethic and scientific brilliance is being mourned across the globe.
Dr. Swaminathan’s career began at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi where he cultivated a passion for plant breeding and genetics. This passion would become central to his future success in identifying, championing and incorporating a new high-yield wheat variety within India’s agricultural sector. To ensure the success of the new variety, he spearheaded efforts to enable its appropriation by demonstrating and testing the wheat in numerous locations across India. By working directly alongside the people who the new crop would most affect, he was able to ensure that the whole sector could successfully adapt and thrive. His invaluable work is recognized as being critical to the continued sustainability of wheat and rice within the country, as well as in preventing widespread food deprivation. It was these tireless efforts that saw him named as the inaugural World Food Prize laureate in 1987.
The World Food Prize was not the only award of Dr. Swaminathan’s illustrious career. Over the years, he garnered many accolades across the globe. These included the Order of the Golden Ark of the Netherlands and the Order of the Golden Heart in the Philippines, where he was Director General of the International Rice Research Institute between 1982 and 1988. A rare intellectual power, Dr. Swaminathan held over 80 honorary doctorates, some of which specifically recognized the inclusivity of his policy and research pursuits.
Dr. Swaminathan continued to lead the way in ensuring sustainable food security and used his prize money from the World Food Prize to set up the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India. Despite the many accolades affording him significant influence with national policy making and humanitarian bodies, Dr. Swaminathan remained a proponent of empowering grassroots action to tackle sustainable development. He is reported as wanting his research foundation to serve underrepresented communities whose voices are largely absent from the sustainable development dialogue.
IWMI is fortunate to have benefited from Dr. Swaminathan’s leadership and support. In 1990 he served as a Member of the Board of Trustees and went on to become Board Chair between 1992 and 1994. He continued to engage with the institute’s efforts in subsequent years and was a great champion of IWMI.
“I remember Dr. Swaminathan as an exceptionally caring humanitarian and a strong advocate of water’s crucial role in reducing poverty and food insecurity worldwide. He consistently insisted that land and water management should be given top priority, and his many years of service to IWMI as Member and then Chair of the IWMI Board, clearly showed the importance he gave to water and his strong commitment to the institute,” said Dr. Roberto Lenton, current Chair of the IWMI Board.
Tributes to Dr. Swaminathan have celebrated a visionary life spent working to empower and enhance the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. He will be remembered with gratitude by IWMI and the world as a bastion of sustainable food systems. He is survived by his three daughters; Soumya, Madhura and Nitya.