Dr Norman Borlaug, 92, known as the father of India's Green Revolution, was presented the Padma Vibhushan on Thursday by India's ambassador R K Bhatia in Mexico City. The ceremony took place at a formal luncheon sponsored by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, in the presence of 350 agricultural scientists from all kinds of disciplines from many countries.
Also present at the event was Mexican Secretary of Agriculture Franciso Javier Mayorga and a number of dignitaries.
In an interview with Rediff.com, Borlaug, a Nobel Laureate (1970), said he deems it his greatest privilege to receive this award from the Indian government and it takes him back to 1965, when India was on the verge of famine. It was then he started working with Indian and Mexican scientists to introduce high-yielding varieties of wheat in India.
He said he had to work with a large number of people, especially Dr M S Swaminathan, then with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, and Agricultural Minister C Subramaniam, to persuade the Indian government to accept high-yielding varieties of wheat. That happened when India finally agreed to import from Mexico 18,000 tonnes of the seeds, which marked the beginning of the Green Revolution.
According to Borlaug, there was also an active role in this played by Siva Raman, then Union Secretary of Agriculture. "I used to call them 3 Ss Subramaniam, Swaminathan and Sivaraman," Borlaug said.
While presenting the Padma Vibhushan, the highest award conferred by India on foreigners, Ambassador Bhatia said, "It was on the research stations and farmers' fields in Mexico that Dr Borlaug developed successive generations of wheat varieties with broad and stable disease resistance, broad adaptation to growing conditions across many degrees of latitude, and with exceedingly high yield potential. These wheat and improved crop management practices transformed agricultural production" in several counties, including India, "sparking what is known as Green Revolution."
Dr Borlaug has been awarded 57 honorary doctorates and belongs to the academia of science in 12 nations, noted Bhatia.
The ambassador said when he wrote to Borlaug a few months back about the Padma Vibhushan, he sent back a communication "conveying his willingness to accept it 'in the name of hundreds of Indian scientists, policy-makers and millions of farmers, without whom there would have been no Green Revolution`." Borlaug also wrote: 'I am deeply grateful to be so honored by my beloved country India'.
In his brief remarks Mexico's Agricultural Secretary Mayorga noted that Dr Borlaug "has saved more lives in the history of mankind," through his high-yielding varieties of wheat and other food crops.
Borlaug himself was critical of some bureaucrats and reporters in India who, when he had tried to persuade India to accept his high-yielding varieties of wheat, were very critical of him, even asking when 'India would get rid of this man'.
"These were people who had never in their lifetime produced a single kilo of foodgrains," Borloug said in humour. "Many people in India are still against new technology. We should go back to the olden days, say 1950s, when the world population was about two billion people. Now we are 6.4 billion. What was adequate then cannot be adequate now. Many of these people in India and elsewhere are thinking in theoretical terms. They haven't lived round hunger and miserable people."
The chief organizer of the luncheon event was Masaru Iwanaga, director-general of CIMMYT. He was happy that Borlaug was awarded the Padma Vibhushan at his institute. While happy that India is self-sufficient in food production, he expressed concern that India may have to, like Japan and China, import large quantities of wheat and that would by implication increase food prices internationally, and developing countries will not take that kindly.
Despite all the talk about Green Revolution, the task in India hasn't ended. India´s wheat production was 11 million tonnes in 1960s. It reached 75 million tonnes by the turn of the century but production is not keeping pace with the increasing population, Borlaug said.
In this respect, Iwanaga was concerned that India may have to soon resort to import of foodgrains.
Borlaug agreed, "I am sure India will have to soon import wheat. Buffer stocks are declining in the country and those stocks can only be replenished through import."
When Borlaug started going to India in the mid-1960s, his three slogans were: 'Credit to farmers 6 weeks before the crop'; 'Fertiliser'; and 'fair price to farmers. He was sad that "farmers in India are still not getting fair price for their produce, which has a negative impact on food production."
Ambassador Bhatia was delighted to present the Padma Vibhushan to Borlaug. "This is the first time [in my long diplomatic career] that I had this privilege to exercise [of presenting the award]. Naturally as ambassador I represent the President of the Republic. It is kind of him to ask me to perform this role. It was also a matter of both pride and happiness that one was doing this for a great cause and to a great man."
"With the establishment of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico in 1966, Dr Borlaug assumed leadership of the Wheat Program, a position he held until his 'official' retirement in 1979. Since 1984, Dr Borlaug has been the Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture in Texas A&M University, where he teaches one semester each year. Since 1986, he has also been the President of the Sasakawa Africa Association, and leader of the Sasakawa-Global agricultural program in sub-Saharan Africa."
The luncheon organized by the CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) was also part of the International Plant Breeding Symposium the Institute had sponsored with several hundreds agricultural scientists from dozens of countries attending.
At the end of the Padma Vibhushan presentation and his acceptance speech, a large number of people mobbed Borlaug, to have their photographs clicked with him, as if he was a Hollywood star. In a sense, he is undoubtedly so.