CGIAR mourns visionary leader M.S. Swaminathan

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by Gene Hettel

Two future World Food Prize Laureates, Dr. Swaminathan (1987) and Gurdev Khush (1996), confer in the IRRI rice research plots in 1984. (IRRI file photo)

Eminent agricultural scientist, geneticist, and administrator Dr. M.S. Swaminathan (at left in first photo), 98, passed away 28 September at his residence in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. He was director general (DG) at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from 1982 to 1988.

Before and after his time at IRRI, he was an influential figure on the global stage, contributing to various international agricultural and environmental initiatives. During his time at IRRI he played a critical role in the establishment of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), as a way of creating national infrastructure to empower national researchers and help rice science flourish in the Philippines.

Until just last month with the appointment of IRRI’s current interim Director General , Dr. Swaminathan had been IRRI’s only Asian director general and, as such, brought a different feel to the Institute during his 6 years at the helm.

“Dr. Swaminathan leaves behind a towering legacy of excellence in science, conscientiousness in administration, decisiveness, and accountability in leadership and most especially a gracious humanity in relationships,” said Dr. Ajay Kohli, IRRI’s interim DG. “His ability to remember names of anyone he met once was less down to a keen memory and more down to him relating to the person very quickly. That is what contributed to the staff’s fondness of him and his time at IRRI. A beacon of inspiration has moved on from the earth to the ether.”

Dr. Swaminathan outside the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai India in the late 1990s. (Photo by Gene Hettel)

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