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World Food Prize winner Rajaram: Farmers and training are critical for wheat yields

Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, center, joined Nuria Urquía Fernández, left, representative in Mexico of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and Raúl Urteaga Trani, coordinator of international affairs of Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), for a news conference on 15 July.

Better research and policies are not enough to ensure that wheat productivity rises to meet the expanding demand of the world population in coming decades, according to Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, 2014 World Food Prize winner and retired CIMMYT distinguished scientist.

“If we want to make a change, research won’t do  it alone; we need to work directly with farmers  and to train young agronomists, ensuring they  have a broad vision to be able to address the problems  in farmers’ fields,” said Rajaram, speaking at a news  conference in Mexico City on 15 July.

Rajaram shared the conference table with Nuria  Urquía Fernández, representative in Mexico of  the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of  the United Nations, and with Raúl Urteaga Trani,  coordinator of international affairs of Mexico’s  Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural  Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA).  “Dr. Rajaram’s work on the genetic improvement of wheat has helped productivity to increase beyond population and demand growth,” said Urquía, who along with Urteaga introduced Rajaram at the event.

During 33 years as a CIMMYT wheat scientist, Rajaram worked directly with Nobel Peace laureate and World Food Prize founder Dr. Norman Borlaug. As leader of bread wheat breeding and later director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program, Rajaram personally oversaw the development of more than 480 high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties sown on 58 million hectares in developing countries.

Speaking to representatives of leading national and global media outlets, Rajaram thanked CIMMYT for the freedom to conduct his groundbreaking wheat breeding research. He also acknowledged the International  Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas  (ICARDA), where he  worked for several years  before his retirement  in 2008, for its efforts  to breed and spread  improved legumes and  other crops that foster  diverse farming and  diets. “Finally, I want to thank Mexico and farmers in agricultural states like Sonora, Estado de México, Jalisco and Guanajuato. As a foreigner, when I first arrived at CIMMYT I had to show that I could do the best for Mexico,” explained Rajaram, who was born and raised in India but is also a naturalized citizen of Mexico, a country he said opened its arms to him and his family.

Outcomes of the conference included positive reports by leading Mexican newspapers and Notimex, the Mexican wire service whose postings are run by many other national media outlets.