Home Articles Essential to bridge data divide to ensure sustainability — MS Swaminathan

Essential to bridge data divide to ensure sustainability — MS Swaminathan

If you do not have the right kind or the right amount of data from carefully conducted experiments, you cannot achieve the desired results. 

In the January of 1964, when everyone was talking about the Green Revolution, I remember what I said at the Science Congress in Varanasi, a prominent district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. At the event, I warned farmers that if you overdo something, you will be in difficulty. The key then, and now, is sustainable methods of cultivation that lead to sustainable yields. Inputs are required for output — use of fertilizers, pesticides, water and so on. But overdoing anything can lead to disastrous results. I warned the attendees at the Congress that let us not turn the Green Revolution into a ‘Greed Revolution’. My comments were focused on the principle of sustainability.

From shallow sowing of seeds to water management, over the years, we have worked with farmers across the country in making agriculture more efficient, productive and sustainable. In this decades-long journey, there have been so many heart-touching experiences that it is difficult to recall one particular incident. However, quite recently, I read a news report in a leading Indian English daily about one of the villages where we had worked extensively; the report said that “the seeds that were sown in 1968 for sustainable agriculture have now taken roots”. I was quite pleased to read that and was moved, to say the least.

Growing significance of data

Today, data has become fundamental to global sustainable development. If you do not have the right kind or the right amount of data from carefully conducted experiments, you cannot achieve the desired results. In fact, I would say that data is fundamental to drawing any conclusion. For instance, before I tell a farmer to use 80 kg of nitrogen, I must have data to show or prove that 80 kg of nitrogen is economically viable and desirable. Therefore, all recommendations should be based on solid data.

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We are well aware that there is a data divide at all levels. However, this glaring gap can very well be bridged — wherever there’s a will, there’s a way. Back in the 1960s, we introduced the concept of ‘village knowledge canter’. It is a place where we have the entire data available. And mind you, this data is thoroughly analyzed. Farmers discuss among themselves whether to rely on that data based on their understanding and experience. In our field, we have extensively used/relied on data for work-related decisions in the past years. Before we get to recommendations, we have a number of trials and replications at an all-India level. And wherever the results are found to be contradictory or different, we get into analyzing how and why. It is all part of informed decision-making and making the right recommendations. But the data is there to support decisions

Public awareness and government intervention

As far as the global digital inequality is concerned, that too can be tackled, depending on the kind of investments you can make, the kind of efforts you can put in and the number of professionals/experts (in our field, scientists) you can hire. Apart from this, you also need a large number of people taking the message around, generating awareness among the larger masses. Another very important factor is the willingness of the government. If the top authorities in a country are convinced that the investment is worth it, they will make it and things will start to change on the ground.

I will give you an example. In 1964, Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister of India. He once came with us to the wheat fields and was instantly convinced that we must accelerate the progress that we had been witnessing in cultivation. He immediately ordered 18,000 tonnes of high-quality seeds. So, government policy has to have such issues on priority. To put it simply, technology and public policy have to come together. Only then will we be able to find sustainable solutions.

Climate Change threat

For a long time, the problem of Climate Change was not accepted as a reality. A majority of people were in denial and some of them even called it “scientific imagination”. But that’s not the case today. There is a lot of discussion around Climate Change now, especially in the wake of different kinds of natural calamities being reported from different parts of the world every now and then. We need to save our natural resources and the public needs to be educated on this front. I personally feel that the mass media has a very important role to play in this. Having said that, technology has a key role to play in this process. Technology can not only help us understand the problem, but can also help us in finding solutions, which is most important.

For farmers, market and climate are the two most important factors that literally determine his life conditions. All new technologies are adding value to agriculture and spatial technology is no different. We have used in the past and know how beneficial it is — Vikram Sarabhai (renowned Indian scientist, physicist and astronomer) was alive at that time and he supported the idea.

Drawing the right balance

We must now look at practicing climate-secure agriculture. The common man is facing numerous challenges and we need a host of measures, including a sound public policy to overcome these challenges. Though technology is very important, I always keep telling people that ‘don’t worship technology’, worship the outcome that you desire.

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