Scaling up of technologies and the Green Revolution: M S Swaminathan


Chennai, October 11, 2017: The interview with Dr Soumya Swaminathan, DDG (designate) of the WHO published in the Hindu (11 Oct 2017) clearly brings out the importance of scaling up innovations of scientific and social significance. It may therefore be useful to recall the role of scaling up in the green revolution in wheat, rice and other crops. Early in the 1960s, I requested Dr Norman Borlaug to send 100 kg of seeds of each of the following semi-dwarf high yielding varieties of wheat – Sonora 63, Sonora 64, Lerma Rojo 64A and Mayo 64. The seeds were used for national demonstration in small farmer’s field at multiple locations. The crops harvested by small and marginal farmers showed that yield can be doubled or tripled by the use of the semi-dwarf varieties supported by appropriate agronomic practices. Through scaling up, semi-dwarf varieties which occupied 4 hectares in 1964, spread to 4 million hectares by 1970, leading to the green revolution. The scaling up could be done through national demonstration, organisation of seed villages and rapid multiplication of new seeds through dibbling. A small government programme called the high yielding varieties programme triggered a mass movement leading to the green revolution.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan’s advocacy of scaling up the use of innovation will have a similar effect if the reach of the new technologies can be enlarged to cover the poor. This is clear in the health sector in the case of smallpox and polio eradication. Thus, it will be prudent to include provision for scaling up of relevant technologies on a pro-poor and pro-small farmer approach. If scaling up of new technologies could lead to the green revolution in the sixties, the scaling up of medical innovations can lead to a health revolution in this decade.