Wheat breeder awarded World Food Prize

India and Mexico native Sanjaya named the 2014 laureate for his work on hundreds of new species of wheat varieties.

In a ceremony Wednesday in Washington D.C., it was unveiled that wheat breeder Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram who worked hand-in-hand with Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug would be this year’s recipient of the World Food Prize.

Rajaram bred an impressive 480 varieties of wheat to provide nutritious grains resistant to rust disease and adaptable in a vast array of climates to feed more people.

 “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,” Secretary of State John Kerry said during the announcement ceremony held at the State Department. “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.”

Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin hosted the World Food Prize Laureate Announcement Ceremony and World Food Prize Chairman John Ruan III participated, as well.

In announcing the name of the 2014 Laureate, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, noted how highly appropriate it is to honor Dr. Rajaram – born in India and a citizen of Mexico – during the Borlaug Centennial Year.

“Dr. Rajaram worked closely with Dr. 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. His breakthrough breeding technologies have had a far-reaching and significant impact in providing more food around the globe and alleviating world hunger,” Quinn said. “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, Dr. 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, 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. Norman Borlaug in leading CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program, and developed an astounding 480 wheat varieties that have been released in 51 countries on six continents and have been widely 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 wide range of environments around the world.

Rajaram said he felt 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. 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,” he said. “It will require all the resources from international research centers, national governments, foundations, NGOs and farmer groups together to synergize future agricultural technologies and food production.”

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