Interview with MS Swaminathan

M. S. Swaminathan

Voice Green: Which is the best environment friendly place you have been to? What attracted you the most there?

MS Swaminathan: I like places where there are tribal families living in harmony with Nature because ecological prudence is a part of their culture. Take for example Waynad, Kuttanad; you have communities, which have nurtured their own culture over a long period of time. In the wilderness of British Guyana, when I was developing the Iwokrama rainforest program, I went to the interior and lived with the Amerindian population there. They are happy, they don’t have much money, but I learned that money and happiness are not synonymous.

VG: Which is the best tourism destination in the world you have seen? What attracted you there?

MSS: From the commercial point of view, the best tourism destination will be the French Riviera, where more than 40 per cent of the world’s tourists go. Hawaii…Goa. Then you’ll have to go to the forests, parts of the Himalayan region which are not still spoilt. There are good parts of Eastern India. Nagaland, Mokokchung and so on. They’re still un-spoilt although shifting cultivation is spoiling the place. The one I like, because of my childhood, I think is the Vembanadu regions of Kerala, which has now been declared as a globally important agricultural heritage site.

VG: Can you please share with us any environment / Nature-related nostalgic thought?

MSS: From childhood I’ve always wondered how the Siberian cranes come all the way to Bharatpur on a particular time in October/November; travelling thousands and thousands of miles. Here also near Chennai Vedanthangal you will find the migratory sites. Kuttanad is a globally important site for migratory birds. What a tremendous capacity for adaptation to conditions they have developed? My own children liked the Bharatpur bird sanctuary. We have migratory birds all along South India… including Sriharikota where we have a space launching mission. I particularly enjoyed where human beings have some regard for Nature. There are areas which are fortunately still in that pristine purity which has not been spoiled by human interventions sometimes called – development. In the name of ecotourism you build hotels which are totally out of harmony with the environment. So, you feel sad about it.

VG: What do you like most in the nature?

MSS: In Nature what I’ve always liked is the diversity. Biological diversity as we call them. Enormous variability! Diversity is the strength of nature. We are now six billion people in the world. Barring identical twins, almost everybody is different even within a family. Variety is the spice of life. Biological diversity has always interested me.

VG: How did you first come to know of environment protection? Has the awareness of environment preservation changed your life style and outlook?

MSS: My outlook certainly was influenced by the whole environment, the social, the political and the natural environment. All these interact with each other in shaping our life. But interaction with Nature and natural resources certainly has heightened my awareness of the need for conservation, sustainable development; that you do not do damage to your capital. Always live on the interest rather than the capital. Nature is the capital and the web of life If you disturb one part, the others are also disturbed. My whole life’s ambition has been to turn hot spots in to happy spots by being careful in dealing with Nature and natural resources.

VG: How do the present day nature/ environment differ from the nature/environment you had seen in your childhood?

MSS: The difference is very obvious. Population pressure! When we got independence in 1947, we had 300 million people. Today it is 1.2 billion or four times more. Population pressure has increased the need for more jobs, more income, more development; Forests have been cut down for hydro-electric projects. Even the Silent Valley Forest, one of the most beautiful forests in the world- rain forest, was endangered by the ill conceived electricity project. So, between what you call development and conservation gradually there has been a conflict which is not necessary. The ‘greed revolution’ has overtaken the ‘green revolution’. Now ground water has gone down so deep that arsenic and other heavy metals are coming up. So we are now reaping the consequences of not caring for nature.

VG: According to you what is the most important environment-related issue the world is facing and what is the best way to solve that issue?

MSS: The ecological security of an area and the livelihood security of the people must not become antagonistic. Our future lies in environmentally sustainable development: Harmony with Nature and harmony with each other. In Chennai, where I live there are two or three major problems. Water is a major problem. So many tankers are going around distributing water. Fortunately although it is near the coast there is still some fresh water. The way in which we are exploiting it is most unsustainable. The other is the problems of mosquitoes and the problems associated with poor environmental management.

VG: Which is the most environmentally polluted place you have seen? What pained your heart most there?

MSS: Where ever I go, the killing of animals and the killing of plants and the killing of an eco system for the greed revolution pains my heart. Greed of the rich must be curbed and the needs of the poor must be met.

VG: What is your message to the world for preserving nature? What, according to you, should be the first initiative to preserve Nature?

MSS: Live in harmony with Nature. Take what it gives and give it back, whatever you can. In other words, if you take from soil five tons of wheat or rice or some other crop, give back to the soil, the nutrition you have taken out of the soil. So, one must be living in harmony with natural resources. If you harm Nature, you are harming yourself, your family and your country.