Recognizing the Triumph of Science in Space and Agriculture


India’s successful lunar landing this week is a proud moment for our country and a pivotal, positive moment for our farmers.

It offers important proof how far India has come and points to what we may yet attain—both in the heavens above and here on earth.

moon illustrationI remember the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. How can anyone forget such a great moment? Neil Armstrong’s quote still reverberates in my mind: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Many people around the world watched the event on their televisions, but not me. Those days, there were no televisions in India. We were listening to the status of the Apollo 11 space mission through radio news.

The launch of Chandrayaan-3 last month, by contrast, was televised throughout our country on all the channels as well as streamed on the internet. Millions of people are in awe of the technology behind the spacecraft and full of patriotic pride about India’s accomplishment.

We’ve launched satellites for years, of course. A generation ago, the Indian Space Research Organization put up the IRS-1C, the world’s most advanced remote sensing satellite with a panchromatic camera (PAN) that sends back pictures of the earth.  These imaging capabilities help predict the weather pattern, get precise guidance on where it would rain, provide instant communication and entertainment and make available a wide range of knowledge. Farmers use its data on soil profiles, likelihood of pest and disease, groundwater availability, and more.

India is now just the fourth country to place a spacecraft on the surface of the moon, along with the United States, Russia, and China—and we did it on the moon’s south pole, which no other country has managed.

Putting a vehicle on the moon is hard. An Indian lander crashed four years ago. Just last weekend, a Russian effort failed.

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” said Napoleon Hill.

His words are as true for spacefaring as they are for farming.

When Armstrong stepped onto another world, nobody could conceive or believe that one day India would follow him there with its own technology. We were in the middle of perhaps the greatest food-security challenge in human history, trying to feed our hungry people.

As Americans made for the moon in the 1960s, India embarked on its own moonshot—a different giant leap forward for mankind.

It took a massive effort of science and technology to tackle an enormous problem, which is that India and many other developing countries failed to grow enough food. At that time, India was not able to produce enough food to feed our own population, supplying only about half of its nutritional need  We had to import the rest.

We also knew that we could do much better.

We still import a lot of food, especially pulses and cooking oil. Yet now we’re full participants in a vigorous system of international trade, exporting more agricultural goods than we import, with rice, sugar, wheat, spices, and meat leading the way. Last year, the value of our exports topped $50 billion, the highest in history.

Getting here was a triumph of science and technology, in what today we call the Green Revolution.

Led by Norman Borlaug of the United States as well as India’s own M.S. Swaminathan and C. Subramaniam, the Green Revolution connected farmers to innovators. Together, they transformed agriculture with new high-yield varieties of rice and wheat and modern mechanization, irrigation, and storage. Better access to fertilizer and outstanding crop-protection products also were essential.

It was a global effort, improving food security everywhere, but its most significant feats were in India. Dr. Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, the year after the Apollo 11 mission. In 1987, during the era of the space shuttles, Dr. Swaminathan received the first World Food Prize.

Earlier this year, India became the world’s most populous nation, with more people than China. Partly because of this, we continue to face food challenges. Millions of my fellow citizens fail to receive proper nutrition.

What we need is a Green Revolution for the 21st century—a Gene Revolution that harnesses the power of biotechnology to grow the best crops in the world.

view of Earth and satelliteThis revolution is well underway, and its elements include everything from GMOs we plant in the ground to precision agriculture that is powered by GPS satellites in space.

Unfortunately, India’s political leaders have resisted many aspects of this new revolution, especially with the gene technologies that continue to improve seeds, making them at once more robust and better able to resist pests, weeds, disease, drought, and more.

Perhaps the success of Chandrayaan-3 will inspire a reconsideration. Without the Green Revolution in the earliest days of the space age, my country wouldn’t have a space program today. You can’t think well, sleep well, or progress well if you don’t dine well.

If India returns to our legacy of agricultural achievement, imagine what we will do in the future, on earth and among the stars.

V. Ravichandran

V. Ravichandran

On a sixty acre farm, Ravi grows Rice, Sugarcane, Cotton and pulses. To utilize water judiciously during summer months, he uses sprinklers and drip system. Has added mechanization to address labor shortage; 12 employees. Kleckner Award winner - 2013.

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