Dr. Surinder (Suri) Sehgal, visionary agricultural entrepreneur, and founder of SM Sehgal Foundation (India) and Sehgal Foundation (USA), has received the prestigious Dr. MS Swaminathan Award for Leadership in Agriculture for 2022.
The award is presented annually to an eminent agricultural expert who has made remarkable contributions towards enhancing food security, alleviating poverty, and effecting positive change within the farming community and the national agricultural landscape.
Noted India-based think tank, Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS) instituted this award in 2004 in honor of Dr. MS Swaminathan, a doyen of Indian agriculture. Twelve eminent agricultural leaders have received this award so far.
Dr. Suri Sehgal was a global leader in the development and spread of the hybrid seed industry worldwide and helped build the Indian seed sector through the establishment of Proagro Group of seed companies (now Bayer) and Hytech Seed India based in Hyderabad, India.
He is renowned for his unwavering commitment to empowering communities and fostering sustainable agricultural practices through his development initiatives through S M Sehgal Foundation (India) and Sehgal Foundation (USA).
SM Sehgal Foundation (SMSF) reaches more than 4.2 million people in 2,040 villages in India. SMSF has been instrumental in improving availability, access, and quality of water; improved farming practices and farmer income; promoted local participation, especially women, in government programs; empowered village youth, especially girls, with digital and life skills learning; transformed school environments; and continues to expand their reach to empower rural India.
During the event, a short film on Dr. Sehgalâ€™s life and his transformational impact on farmers and rural communities in India and elsewhere was shown. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, MSSRF chairperson, joined online to convey the blessings of Dr. MS Swaminathan to Dr. Sehgal. The citation was read by Dr. Gurbachan Singh, TAAS vice chairman and trustee.
The award was presented by an eminent maize breeder, world food laureate, and previous recipient of this award, Dr. SK Vasal, who successfully led the quality protein maize (QPM) breeding program at CIMMYT, Mexico.
In his award acceptance speech, Sehgal talked about the journey he covered as a plant breeder and in social development. â€œThroughout my entire career in plant science and agriculture business management, I have felt an imperative to address world hunger, create food security, and promote biodiversityâ€”a vision exemplified by Dr M S Swaminathan for whom this award is named,â€ he said.
Sehgal also expressed his gratitude to TAAS for conferring this prestigious Dr. MS Swaminathan award, and his thanks to all who helped him on his journey from plant scientist to philanthropist, especially his wife Edda.
Sehal was born in Guliana, the then British Indian province of Punjab, in 1934, as the fifth of eight children of a Sikh mother and a Hindu father. He overcame significant challenges in his early years, including experiencing the turmoil of the Partition of India. He arrived in the United States in 1959 to pursue a Ph.D. at Harvard University. It was at Harvard, he met his future wife, Edda.
In the next three decades, Sehgal distinguished himself as a respected crop scientist, seedsman, and accomplished international business leader before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey.
In 2016, he received the American Bazaar Philanthropy Award.Â Delivering the third American Bazaar Philanthropy Lecture in Washington, DC, Sehgal urged members of the Indian American community to donate at least a part of their income to philanthropy. He pointed out that roughly 27 percent of the community had a median income of $140,000. If that segment of the population committed at least $1,500 a year â€” then half of the money an average American household is giving annually â€” about $1.8 billion would be available for philanthropy.
The Sehgals live in Fort Myers, FL.