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Letter: Praise for a champion of sustainable agriculture

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The death of MS Swam­inathan is an enorm­ous loss for agri­cul­tural research and poli­cy­makers con­cerned with food policies (Obit­u­ary, Octo­ber 7). While the cul­tiv­a­tion of crops such as rice and wheat with higher yields facil­it­ated India’s “green revolu­tion”, his views evolved from an ini­tial Malthu­s­ian emphasis on the unsus­tain­ab­il­ity of pop­u­la­tion growth. In par­tic­u­lar, he was impressed by research I worked on into “unwanted fer­til­ity” in North India, that is unplanned births that increase demand for food as well as ground­wa­ter deple­tion. Des­pite the devel­op­ment of nutri­tious rice vari­et­ies, sub­sidies for elec­tri­city are exacer­bat­ing ground­wa­ter deple­tion in semi-arid regions due to the cul­tiv­a­tion of low tran­spir­a­tion effi­ciency crops. Swam­inathan was an advoc­ate for evid­ence-based food policies that address the demand and sup­ply of food by tack­ling pop­u­la­tion growth, soil fer­til­ity and ground­wa­ter deple­tion on a global scale.

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