Monday, September 21, 2009

The man to whom Rajasthan owes its food security

Rajendra Bora

Jaipur. Rajasthan too ows its gratitude to agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug who died at Dallas in Texas, United States Saturday last at the age of 95.

The genetic plant breeder worked in Rajasthan in 1960s on ‘Intensive Agriculture Development Project’ bringing green revolution in the desert state by growing high yielding wheat varieties that more than tripled the harvest.

Rajasthan was selected as the one of the seven projects in the country where the new varieties of wheat, developed by Borlaug in Mexico, were to be planted for advanced generations in 1963 under his personal monitoring after the scientist was invited to India by the Ministry of Agriculture on a suggestion of noted Indian agricultural scientist M.S.Swaminathan.

Pali district was selected for the Rajasthan Project because better irrigation facilities were available there from Jawai Dam and Takhat Sagar Dam, recalls Rajveer Singh, retired Additional Director Agriculture.

The Pali areas of Bali, Rani, Sumerpur and Desuri were having canal irrigation system as well as fully developed well-irrigation system where the Borlaug experiment was conducted with tremendous success, says Singh.

Borlaug’s Maxicun variety was dwarf one in which vegetative growth of plant was blocked transferring energy to increasing grain formation. The contemporary Indian varieties were having a chef and grain ratio of 1.25 and One while the new dwarf variety changed this ratio to .75 and One. The crop yield dramatically increased from16 quintals per hectare of old varieties to 40 quintals per hectare of new dwarf varieties.

It was a turning point for green revolution in India, particularly in Rajasthan, says Rajveer Singh adding that the credit too goes to Indian farmers too who adopted the new variety very quickly. In accepting the new wheat variety Indian farmers were far ahead of US farmers, he said.

Lerma Rajo-64 and Sonara-64 changed the economics of Rajasthan farmers who feel personal loss in the passing away of Borlaug.

Throughout his life, Borlaug was a firm believer that the job of feeding the world could not be done without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. That view drew strong criticism from environmentalists. Borlaug tempered his views somewhat in his later years and led efforts to discourage overuse of insecticides and fertilizers.

Borlaug, a recipient of Nobel Peace Prize was conferred with Padma Vibhushan honour by Government of India for his contribution to developing food security in the country bringing about green revolution.

(The piece appeared in Hindustan Times supplement HT Live on September 19, 2009)