“Soil is the living heart of agriculture.” This profound statement that overhangs a description of soil types, often gives visitors their first lesson at ICRISAT. Testimonies to its soundness lie in the life and work of the man who made it.
Dr Jaswant Singh Kanwar, ICRISAT’s first Deputy Director General, who passed away on 1 March, firmly believed hungry soils only make for a hungry nation. And he made sure soils never went hungry.
In the 1960s, institutions needed vision and handholding. Dr Kanwar provided both in countless measure, first at one of India’s oldest agricultural universities, then at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and subsequently at ICRISAT. His achievements as a researcher stand taller.
In 1962, Dr Kanwar was made Punjab Agricultural University’s first Director of Research. Just a decade before, his master’s research work on earthworms influencing soils had been path breaking.
In its tribute to Dr Kanwar, the Indian Society of Soil Science pointed out the pioneering research he did to combat sulphur deficiency in soils of Punjab, which later proved helpful throughout the developing world. Dr Kanwar had worked extensively in the areas of resource management, mainly soil and water, and in environment, spanning authorship of over 300 publications. He later joined ICAR as its first Deputy Director General (Soils, Agronomy, Engineering and Water) after turning down a much coveted offer from FAO in 1966.
He did it again in 1973 to help establish ICRISAT.
“Dr Kanwar was DDG when I was a student at ICRISAT. He advocated for quality science. He was a great scientist and leader,” Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, fondly recalls. ICRISAT’s library has been named after Dr Kanwar.
Dr Kanwar helped create the All India Coordinated Research Project on Dryland Agriculture which later become the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) in Hyderabad.
“The completion of 15 years of distinguished service directing the research program of ICRISAT marks another milestone in the career of Dr Kanwar,” ICRISAT’s Founding Director Dr Ralph W Cummings had said on 30 March 1988 after Dr Kanwar’s retirement.
“He is to be congratulated on the quality of his leadership in this responsibility and the people of the semi-arid regions of the world can be forever grateful for all that he has done to contribute to their welfare and well-being.”