Eminent ICARDA crop scientist wins World Food Prize

An eminent ICARDA scientist has been awarded the World Food Prize in recognition of his significant contributions to global wheat production, helping to feed millions of people through the development of more nutritious varieties that are resistant to disease and adaptable to a wide range of climatic conditions.

In a career that has spanned several decades, Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram , currently a Senior Scientific Advisor at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) , is being recognized for his significant and lasting contributions to poverty reduction and global food security.

The World Food Prize, to be presented at the 2014 Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, United States, today, is the foremost international award recognizing individuals whose achievements have advanced human development by increasing the quality, quantity, or availability of food.

With his research teams, Dr. Rajaram has developed some 480 wheat varieties that have been released in 51 countries across six continents and an estimated 58 million hectares. Widely adopted by thousands of small- and large-scale farmers, these varieties provide average annual wheat consumption to more than one billion people. Thanks to his wheat improvement research, Dr. Rajaram has helped secure a 1.3 percent rise in global wheat production per annum during the last four decades.

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 the development of plants that have higher yields and dependability under a wide range of environments around the world.

Originally from a small farming community in Uttar Pradesh, Dr. Rajaram spent much of this early career at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) where he served as Director of the Wheat Breeding Program, working for many years alongside the eminent crop scientist Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the ‘Father of the Green Revolution.’

In his role at ICARDA, Dr. Rajaram built on this experience to help develop strategies that would fundamentally tackle the challenges facing wheat in dry areas – including the semi-arid and arid regions of India where the Center has a growing Regional Program aimed at increasing nutrition and incomes for millions of subsistence farmers.

A notable success in recent years has been his contributions to the development of wheat varieties that are resistant to wheat stripe rust disease – an endemic threat to worldwide wheat production spreading quickly due to climate change, where ICARDA is taking the lead.

Speaking on hearing of his nomination for the World Food Prize, Dr. Rajaram commented: “I felt honored to receive the news that the 2014 World Food Prize would be awarded to me, and through me, to hundreds and thousands of wheat researchers and farmers around the world. I believe that the challenges of 21 st 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 sustainable manner.” He continued: “Future crop production is bound to decline unless we fully factor in the issues related to climate change, soil fertility, water deficits, and utilize advanced genetics in the next 20 to 30 years.”

Dr. Mahmoud Solh, Director General of ICARDA, spoke of the valuable contributions that Dr. Rajaram’s research had brought to farmers and the science of drylands agriculture: “Dr. Rajaram is certainly one of the giants of crop science in our era. We are grateful for his contributions to the science of wheat that brings improved food security to people living in the world’s dry areas. His work has also had a lasting influence on a generation of scientists and researchers in many national programs.”