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The Canadian who Pioneered Farm Research in Mysore State

The Canadian who Pioneered Farm Research in Mysore State

BENGALURU: On a rainy day in June 1946, the then minister of agriculture MA Sreenivasan convinced the Representative Assembly -in session at the Town Hall -that it was time to build an agricultural college in Bengaluru. Syllabi were drawn and Mysore University affiliations were secured.

Sheds were acquired from Lahore and put up at Hebbal. Finally, with 44 students, the agriculture college commenced classes in August 1946. In the next two decades, this institute took shape as the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS).
When Bengaluru was taking baby steps in agricultural science research, the man who conceived the idea -back in the early 1900s -was in the evening of his life in Canada.

Leslie Coleman is an unfamiliar name among the list of officers and administrators whose legacies continue to touch lives in present-day Bengaluru. The Canadian, born on June 16, 1878, was the first entomologist (who studies insects) and mycologist (who studies fungi) of the Old Mysore State. This June marks his 139th birth anniversary.

After a doctorate in `nitrification by soil bacteria’ from the University of Gottingen in Germany, Coleman was hired by Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV to assist Dr Adolf Lehmann, the agricultural advisor for Mysore. Soon, Coleman went on to become the director of agriculture in Mysore and served from 1913 to 1934.

At the beginning of his tenure, Coleman started an agricultural school in Hebbal that offered diploma courses, said TM Manjunath, an agricultural scientist closely associated with the entomology department at the UAS.
“He was a man with foresight. He taught students the importance of fieldwork in agriculture, introduced a structural expansion of the industry and worked closely with farmers to help them adopt new technology,” he said.

The school attracted students from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Singapore and South Africa. It was shut down in 1957 after the agricultural college began full-fledged operations.

During his stay in Bengaluru, Coleman studied coffee rust, areca disease and infections that affected sandalwood. He also established the Central Coffee Research Institute in Balehonnur and the sugar factory at Mandya.

His son-in-law Tom Widdowson visited the factory when Coleman’s daughter Ann visited Bengaluru in 2013 to trace her father’s legacy (Ann passed away last year). In a horticultural society newsletter back home in Canada, he wrote about how he felt like a “VIP for a day” when people at the sugar factory organised a lavish function on his arrival.
“The organisation impressed us. The management laid on the car, the marching band, the schoolgirls, the politicians, the flowers, the fruits and the gifts,” he stated.

Coleman left India in 1934 to teach genetics at Toronto University. He died on September 14, 1954, fully aware that his dream of creating an agricultural university in India had been fulfilled.





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