Dr. Manibhai Desai was born in a farmer's family at Kosmada in Surat district of Gujarat on April 27, 1920. As a student, he joined Mahatma Gandhi during the Quit India Movement. In August 1945, on an invitation from Gandhiji, he went to Sevagram Ashram in Wardha where he was influenced by Gandhiji's views on Gram Swarajya. In 1946, Gandhiji established the Nature Cure Ashram at Urulikanchan and entrusted the responsibility to Manibhai. During the next 47 years, Manibhaiji promoted nature cure as a reliable solution for community health and also established BAIF Development Research Foundation, an Organisation committed to sustainable development of Rural India.
Today, it is because of the vision of Manibhaiji that over 4.5 million families spread over 60,000 villages in 16 states are enjoying better quality of life and have come out of poverty through dairy husbandry, water resources development, agri-horti-forestry on degraded lands, women empowerment and community health.
In recognition of his significant contribution to Rural Development, Dr. Manibhai Desai was conferred many Awards. Notable among them are:
- Padmashree for Rural Upliftment and Community Development (1968)
- D.Sc. (Honoris Causa) by the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri, Maharashtra (1977)
- Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service (1982)
- G.J. Watumull Memorial Award for dedicated devotion to Gandhian principles in rural development (1982)
- Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Application of Science and Technology (1983)
- BESI Man of the Year Award (1986) by the Bio-Energy Society of India for outstanding contribution in the field of Bio-energy
- Vishwa Gurjari National Award for Rural Upliftment (1989)
- National Citizen Award for rural development (1991)
- Pune's Pride - Life Time Achievement (posthumously) by Residency Club, Pune (1995)