World Food Prize honors eminent wheat breeder

by Eric Schroeder
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Sanjaya Rajaram

WASHINGTON — Wheat breeder Sanjaya Rajaram has been chosen as the 2014 World Food Prize Laureate. Dr. Rajaram was announced as the winner of the award at a June 18 ceremony at the U.S. State Department.

“Dr. Rajaram worked closely with Dr. (Norman) Borlaug, succeeding him as head of the wheat breeding program at CIMMYT in Mexico, and then carried forward and expanded upon his work, breaking new ground with his own invaluable achievements,” said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation. “His breakthrough breeding technologies have had a far-reaching and significant impact in providing more food around the globe and alleviating world hunger. Dr. Borlaug himself called Dr. Rajaram ‘the greatest present-day wheat scientist in the world’ and ‘a scientist of great vision.’ It is an honor to recognize Dr. Rajaram today for his development of an astounding 480 varieties of wheat, bred to offer higher yields, resistance to the catastrophic rust disease, and that thrive in a wide array of climates.”

Born in a small village in India in 1943, Dr. Rajaram dedicated his life to making direct improvements for farmers and all people who depend on agriculture. Now a citizen of Mexico, Dr. Rajaram conducted the majority of his research in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (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 upon the successes of the Green Revolution.

Dr. Rajaram succeeded Dr. Borlaug in leading CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program, and he developed 480 wheat varieties that have been released in 51 countries on 6 continents and have been adopted by small- and large-scale farmers alike. His crossing of winter and spring wheat varieties, which were distinct gene pools that had been isolated from one another for hundreds of years, led to his development of plants that have higher yields and dependability under a range of environments around the world.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry applauded the selection of Dr. Rajaram as the 2014 World Food Prize Laureate.

“When you do the math, when our planet needs to support two billion more people in the next three decades, it’s not hard to figure out:  This is the time for a second green revolution,” Mr. Kerry said. “That’s why Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram is being honored with the World Food Prize. We are grateful for the hundreds of new species of wheat Dr. Rajaram developed, which deliver 200 million more tons of grain to global markets each year and feed millions across the world.”

Dr. Rajaram, who is the director of Resource Seeds International and a consultant on multiple other wheat research programs, said he was “highly honored” to receive the award.

“I believe that the challenges of 21st-century agriculture and food production are surmountable compared to the past and can be overcome provided we can bring together new knowledge and delivery systems to farmers in a very sustainable manner,” Dr. Rajaram said. “Future crop production is bound to decline unless we fully factor in the issues related to climate change, soil fertility and water deficits, and utilize advanced genetics in the next 20 to 30 years. It will require all the resources from international research centers, national governments, foundations, NGOs and

Dr. Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, created the World Food Prize in 1987. It is the foremost international award recognizing individuals who have contributed landmark achievements in increasing the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
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