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India-born scientist Rajaram awarded World Food Prize

By Lalit K Jha
October 17, 2014 21:43 IST
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India-born Mexican scientist Sanjaya Rajaram has been presented with the prestigious World Food Prize 2014 for his agricultural research that led to a remarkable increase in world wheat production building on the successes of the Green Revolution.

"It is a collective achievement, rather than that of a single person," Rajaram told the audience accepting the prestigious award at the Iowa State University, Des Moines, in the US state of Iowa.

The award "honours the innovative spirit of farmers", he said adding that "without their contributions, my research wouldn't have been possible".

By crossing winter and spring wheat varieties – which were distinct gene pools that had been isolated from one another for hundreds of years -- he created wheat varieties that are disease- and stress-resistant and adaptable to diverse geographical regions and climates.

In 2007, Norman Borlaug called Rajaram "the greatest present-day wheat scientist in the world". Borlaug is known as the father of the Green Revolution.

Born in a small village in India, Rajaram worked to be the top in his class as he moved through school, and dedicated his life to making direct improvements for farmers and all people who depend on agriculture.

Now a citizen of Mexico, Rajaram conducted the majority of his research in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).

His work there led to a prodigious increase in world wheat production – by more than 200 million tons during the 25-year-period known as the "golden years of wheat" – building on the successes of the Green Revolution.

Rajaram worked side by side with Borlaug at CIMMYT before succeeding him as head of the wheat breeding programme in 1972.

He implemented a major expansion of Borlaug's approach, advancing his mentor's work during the 'golden years' of wheat breeding and production.

Under Rajaram's leadership, the centre developed 480 wheat varieties released in 51 countries and were widely adopted by small- and large-scale farmers alike.

At a news conference, Rajaram said he wholeheartedly supports genetically modified crops. But the World Food Prize laureate said caution is still needed in their adoption, the local Des Moines Register newspaper reported.

"I'm very pro-, in the sense that I see a tremendous yield stability that GM (genetic modification) can bring to various crops," Rajaram was quoted as saying.

"However, how to handle that. What are the effects on the environment? We need to study those things very carefully," Rajaram said.

"Like any technology, we have to be very cautious in promoting it," he added. 

Image: Norman Borlaug (right) with Sanjaya Rajaram, his successor as head of CIMMYT's wheat program.
Photographs: Courtesy, CIMMYT

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Lalit K Jha in Washington
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