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Wheat researcher wins prestigious World Food Prize

Jun 28,2014

Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram (left), Senior Scientific Advisor at ICARDA, with Dr. Norman Borlaug

The prestigious World Food Prize, the foremost international award recognizing the achievements of individuals who have improved the quality, quantity, or availability of food worldwide, has been awarded to Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, a world leader in the science of wheat improvement who served as a senior scientific advisor at ICARDA – the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.   

Dr. Rajaram spent much of his early career at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) where he served as Director of the Wheat Breeding Program, working for many years alongside the eminent crop scientist Dr. Norman Borlaug, the ‘father of the Green Revolution.’ Dr. Rajaram’s work over the past four decades at CIMMYT and ICARDA has made a significant contribution to poverty reduction and global food security. With his research teams, he has developed some 480 wheat varieties that have been released in 51 countries across six continents and widely adopted by thousands of small and large-scale farmers. It is estimated that these varieties provide average annual wheat consumption to more than one billion people.

Recognizing these contributions at the recent awards ceremony in Washington DC, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, highlighted Dr. Rajaram’s contributions to global food security: “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.” He added: “That’s why Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram is being honored with the World Food Prize. We are grateful for the hundreds of new varieties of wheat that Dr Rajaram has developed”

Speaking at the ceremony, Dr. Rajaram said: “I felt highly honored to receive the news that the 2014 World Food Prize would be awarded to me, and through me, to hundreds and thousands of wheat researchers and farmers around the world. 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.”

Dr. Rajaram joined ICARDA as Director of the Center’s Integrated Gene Management Program, and after he retired in 2008, continued as a special scientific advisor on overall wheat improvement strategies to tackle the challenges facing wheat in dry areas, including stripe rust – an endemic threat to worldwide wheat production spreading quickly due to climate change, where ICARDA is taking the lead.  

ICARDA Director General, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, commented on the value that Dr. Rajaram’s knowledge and expertise has brought to the farmers and the science of drylands agriculture. “Dr. Rajaram is certainly one of the giants of crops science in our era. We are grateful for his contributions to the science of wheat that brings improved food security to people living in the world’s dry areas. His work has also had a lasting influence on a generation of scientists and researchers in many national programs.”