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Borlaug visits Obregón; Patronato and Sonora give CIMMYT US$ 1 million

Dr. Norman Borlaug had a joyous reunion on 02 April 08 with CIMMYT and Mexican friends and former colleagues at the place—the research facilities near Ciudad Obregón, Sonora state, owned by the farmers union ‘Patronato para la Investigación y Experimentación Agrícola del Estado de Sonora’ where he and his research team developed the Green Revolution wheats. His visit came on the occasion of the announcement there by Ronnie Coffman, director of international programs at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, of a US$ 26.8 million grant to Cornell by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a global partnership including CIMMYT to combat the rust diseases of wheat, particularly the virulent stem rust strain from eastern Africa, Ug99.

At the same event, the President of the Patronato, Jorge Artee Elías Calles (in the photo), and the Sonora State Secretary of Agriculture, Alejandro Elías Calles, announced that the Patronato and the state of Sonora would give respective donations to CIMMYT of 6 million pesos and 4 million pesos—equivalent to nearly US$ 1 million—for research on the rusts and on Karnal bunt disease, “in honor of Borlaug, and to welcome the new DG, Tom Lumpkin.” “The farmers of the region are aware of Ug99 and the problems it represents in other part of the world and could cause in the Yaqui Valley (the Ciudad Obregón region) in the future,” says Artee. Borlaug, who recently turned 94 and has suffered serious bouts of illness, looked full of vigor and enthusiasm as he spoke to the gathering in fluent Spanish and, like on countless past occasions throughout his life, went to the field to inspect experimental wheat lines—this time, new ones that carry resistance to Ug99. “The rust pathogens recognize no political boundaries and their spores need no passport to travel thousands of miles in the jet streams,” he says. “Containing these deadly enemies of the wheat crop requires alert and active scientists, strong international research networks, and effective seed supply programs.” The new Cornell project essentially brings full circle work begun by Borlaug and Mexican associates 60 years ago in northwest Mexico, as part of the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Office of Special Studies, that resulted in the release of high-yielding, stem rust resistant wheats.

Among those accompanying Borlaug were his daughter, Jeanie Borlaug Laube, and granddaughter, Julie Borlaug. Members of the extended CIMMYT family who joined the event included Sanjaya Rajaram, former wheat breeder and program director; John Dodds, former deputy director general; Gregorio Martínez, former public affairs officer; Evangelina Villegas, former cereal chemist; Richard Ward, former head of the Global Rust Initiative; Reynaldo Villareal, former wheat training coordinator; and Chris Dowswell and David Mowbray, former heads of corporate communications. Norm’s presence, together with stellar logistics by numerous CIMMYT global wheat program staff and consultants, including personnel of the Obregón research station, together with the Cornell team, made the event a great success.