Sanjaya Rajaram, Ph.D., a wheat breeder who has spent his life developing more than 480 varieties of the staple crop, was awarded The World Food Prize on World Food Day, Oct. 16, among an international audience at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
Rajaram’s scientific research led to a prodigious increase in world wheat production – by more than 200 million tons. 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. He also developed wheat varieties resistant to the rust disease that can wipe out entire fields, thus protecting the world's food supply.
"This award honors the resilience and innovative spirit of farmers in the developing world and the national agricultural systems," Rajaram said as he accepted the award. "Without their contributions my research would not have been possible. The mission was – and the mission remains - to serve them."
As the World Food Prize culminates the centennial year of its founder and Rajaram's mentor, Norman Borlaug, Ph.D., and also yesterday celebrated World Food Day and the UN-FAO’s International Year of Family Farming, it is especially fitting to recognize the impact of Dr. Rajaram’s achievements.
“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,” said Amb. Kenneth M. Quinn, President of The World Food Prize. “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, 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).
Rajaram succeeded 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. Rajaram is currently the director of Resource Seeds International and a consultant to International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).