What inspires plant scientists and why is their job so important? Professor MS Swaminathan explains:
Why did you want to be a plant scientist?
I decided to become a plant scientist because I wanted to specialize in plant genetics and to help breed new high yielding and disease resistant varieties of crops.
Can you explain what your job involves?
My job involves the development of new varieties and the verification of their performance in farmer’s fields. Ultimately it is farmers who decide on the choice of crop and variety.
What are the pest’s/crop enhancements that you are working on?
I started my work at Wageningen in the Netherlands on breeding potato varieties resistant to the golden nematode. Later I shifted to the breeding of rust resistant variety of wheat. One of my cold tolerant potato varieties was named Alaska Frostless, released in Alaska.
Can you describe how damaging these pests and diseases can be for farmers?
Farmers suffer from the unholy triple alliance of pests, pathogens and weeds. Hence the breeder’s first choice is to help farmers control them through varieties which are resistant to them. Pest resistant varieties are very popular with farmers since they insulate them from severe damage. The Irish Potato Famine is a good example of the damage that can be caused by a disease, in this case, the late plight fungus.
Why is your profession important in the challenge to feed the world?
Development of disease resistant and high quality crop varieties is the best way of helping small farmers to feed the world. Major famines including the great Bengal Famine of 1942-43 were caused by diseases. Hence there is no time to relax in the breeding of pest resistant varieties.
What inspires you about your job?
I like my job because it helps me to contribute to the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. It has also given me intellectual satisfaction since the work has led to innovative programs like farming system for nutrition, genetic gardens of biofortified crops and halophytes. My job helps to confer maximum benefit at minimum cost. Today the world is fairly comfortable in food security, it is only because of the availability of disease resistant crop varieties in the major food plants.
Professor M S Swaminathan: UNESCO Chair in Ecotechnology and Founder Chairman, MSSRF. He is known as the “Father of the Green Revolution” for his leadership and success in introducing and further developing high-yielding varieties of wheat in India.