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Former CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director wins 2014 World Food Prize

June 26, 2014

By Miriam Shindler/CIMMYT

CIMMYT is delighted that the World Food Prize 2014 has been awarded to distinguished wheat breeder Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram for his achievements in plant research and food production.

Continuing the legacy: Rajaram donates $20,000 to the Global Wheat Program to support training for the next generation of wheat breeders.

According to Hans Braun, Director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program, “Rajaram is the most successful wheat breeder alive.” Rajaram cultivated a generation of wheat scientists and taught them about wheat improvement and key CIMMYT methods. Rajaram studied genetics and plant breeding under Prof. M.S. Swaminathan at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi in 1964 before joining Dr. Borlaug in Mexico in 1969.

At CIMMYT, Borlaug became a mentor to Rajaram and they worked side by side in the fields of El Batán, Toluca and Ciudad Obregón. Rajaram – known affectionately as “Raj” — led bread wheat breeding research at CIMMYT for more than three decades. His leadership and commitment to wheat improvement resulted in the release of more than 480 varieties of bread wheat with increased yield potential and stability, along with wide adaptation and resistance to important diseases and stresses.

Rajaram with his mentor Dr. Norman Borlaug in the wheat fields of Obregón. Photos: CIMMYT files

These varieties include the spring and winter wheat cross Veery, which was released in 36 countries; new approaches to disease resistance, for instance ‘slow-rusting’ wheatvarieties; and largely reduced foliar blight susceptibility in semi-dwarf wheat. Rajaram’s wheats are grown on some 58 million hectares worldwide and approximately 30 million hectares in South Asia. One of his wheats, PBW 343, is India’s most popular wheat variety. His varieties have increased the yield potential of wheat by 20 to 25 percent.

He also led efforts at CIMMYT to apply the concept of durable resistance to rusts — the most damaging wheat disease across the world. His accomplishments include training or mentoring more than 700 scientists from dozens of developing countries. The World Food Prize was established by Norman Borlaug in 1986 to honor the achievements of individuals who have “advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.”

The first recipient of the World Food Prize was M.S. Swaminathan, the man who brought Borlaug’s semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties to India – thus earning him the title “Father of the Indian Green Revolution.” Rajaram was nominated for the World Food Prize by Dr. Thomas Lumpkin, Director General and Dr. Hans Braun, Director of the Global Wheat Program at CIMMYT, with support from national agricultural research institutes around the world.

Congratulations Raj, from the entire CIMMYT staff! We continue to be inspired by your work, which has benefited millions of farmers and consumers all over the world.

Biography: 

Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram was born on a small farm in rural Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1943. Unlike most children in his socioeconomic position, he was encouraged to pursue an education by his parents, and graduated from secondary school as the top-ranked student in the entire Varanasi District. Rajaram went on to earn a B.Sc. in agriculture from the University of Gorakhpur, a M.Sc. in genetics and plant breeding from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi and a Ph.D. in plant breeding from the University of Sydney. Rajaram’s outstanding career at CIMMYT began in 1969 working as a wheat breeder alongside Dr. Norman Borlaug. In 1972, at the age of 29, Borlaug appointed him as head of CIMMYT’s Wheat Breeding Program. After 33 years at CIMMYT, including seven as Director of the Global Wheat Program, Rajaram joined the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as Director of Integrated Gene Management before formally retiring in 2008. During his distinguished career, Rajaram’s work resulted in the release of more than 480 varieties of bread wheat in 51 countries, which are grown on more than 58 million hectares worldwide. Rajaram is a Mexican citizen and resides in Mexico.


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