Indian social scientist wins Norman Borlaug award

by Eric Schroeder
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DES MOINES, IOWA — Aditi Mukherji has been named the first recipient of the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation. The award recognizes researchers under the age of 40 in the early stages of their work who emulate the scientific innovation and dedication demonstrated by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug.

Dr. Mukherji is an Indian social scientist whose research on groundwater resources in agriculture led to major policy changes benefiting thousands of farmers in West Bengal. During her intense fieldwork surveying more than 4,000 groundwater users, Dr. Mukherji discovered that smallholder farmers in water-abundant eastern India were being prevented by certain policy restrictions from gaining access to the water resources needed for irrigating their crops. She then worked closely with the farmers and village residents to ensure that their concerns were fully recorded and that their collective voice was heard by the policy makers.

She will be formally presented with the $10,000 award on Oct. 17 in Des Moines as part of this year’s World Food Prize international symposium.

“Dr. Mukherji has demonstrated qualities that emulate Dr. Borlaug’s ingenuity and perseverance in transferring his scientific breakthroughs to farmers and hungry people around the world through the gateway of government policy and action,” said Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation. “Like Dr. Borlaug, she has shown persistence, innovation, effective communication, contribution to science, and application of that science for policy change to improve lives and livelihoods.”

Mr. Quinn added, “This year, the Stockholm Water Prize is honoring I.W.M.I., the World Food Prize is recognizing renowned irrigation expert Dr. Daniel Hillel, and now this new award is going to Dr. Mukherji, creating a truly unique trifecta of honors that reflect the critical importance of water in the world’s global food supply.”

Dr. Mukherji said her accomplishments have required a combination of field work, data collection and collaboration with other researchers and policy makers.

“Access to reliable, affordable and timely irrigation are very powerful tools of poverty alleviation,” Dr. Mukherji said. “What truly inspires me is the impact that one’s research can make on the lives of the poor by providing more food on their table — something that Dr. Borlaug showed us years ago through his pioneering work in Mexico, India and elsewhere. He is my ultimate role model.”

Dr. Mukherji has attended Presidency College, Calcutta; Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi; and the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. In addition, she completed a Ph.D. degree in human geography at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

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