• Bangalore
  • 17 August 2014
  • Interviews
  • By Ayesha Siddiqui

GM technology will help advance crop production

In an exclusive interview with BioSpectrum, Dr Rajaram traces his journey of becoming the world’s first wheat scientist to receive the world food prize

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His research has led to the development of hundreds of improved wheat varieties

The prestigious World Food prize 2014 was awarded to a Mexican scientist of Indian-origin, Dr Sanjay Rajaram. His research has led to the development of hundreds of improved wheat varieties, providing daily food source to more than a billion people. His desire to serve farmers was why he studied agriculture science and his research led him to play a part in eradicating world hunger. Dr Rajaram, an alumnus of IARI, Delhi and University of Sydney has worked closely with Dr Norman Borlough, the father of Green Revolution. He was introduced to Dr Borlough by his professor at the University of Sydney, Dr Erwin Armstrong Watson.

In an email interaction, he spoke about his journey, Dr Borlough and GM crops

1. Congratulations on winning the World Food Prize. You have made India proud. This is also the first ever award to be received by a wheat scientist. You're Comments?
This is the first World Food Prize award after the the establishment of the Foundation. I am indeed very happy to receive this award. However, I must clarify that I will be receiving this prize on behalf of all wheat researchers and wheat farmers who have been associated with me. I do share your sentiment that India should take some pride in this regard.

2. How was it to work with Dr Norman Borlough? What role has he played in your research work and overall professional journey?
Dr Norman Borlaug hired me in 1969 as post-doctoral fellow, just after I finished my PhD program from Sydney, Australia. I joined his wheat research program in May 1969. If you know the culture of Mexico, then you knows that it is different from ours as regards to food habits, language and religious beliefs. To make some headway, I needed to adapt to the Mexican culture, so you can see there was a lot of inner conflict on what I wanted. At the same time, the opportunity to work with Dr Norman Borlaug was very enticing. I decided that I would work with Dr Borlaug and his team for some years, get some experience and after that pursue a career somewhere in non-Latin American countries including India.
So I decided to work with his team whole heartedly and start contributing to the broader goals of wheat production and productivity worldwide which was Dr Borlaug's objective. He was a hard task master. It was not easy for an Indian young scientist to adapt to his way of working. He was straight shooter, focused on his objective and he warned everybody to line up for the same. Pursuing a freelance career while in his program was not possible. However, I felt his mission was very noble, he was openly talking about humanity and wheat production. He appeared to be a politician at that time, and also came from a small farmer background.
His philosophy of work was field oriented application of science which, many a time, meant sweating in the field, getting your boots dirty, and long hours. So you can see, challenging as the situations were, one needed to adapt to such rules if you wanted to be a part of the team and of course I did. We became great colleagues and good friends. However at times, we did differ in our philosophy and our approach towards achieving the final goal.
In summary, he did inspired me a lot in pursuing my career in International Agriculture, which is more service to farmers than ivory tower research and doing some academic narrow field research.

3. What inspired you to study agricultural science?
I come from a small farming background in the district of Varanasi, from a village called Raipur. These are all farming communities, however I must confess that I was not interested in agriculture in the beginning. As I moved to secondary school, I was interested in Sanskrit. Later on, as I moved towards intermediate schooling, I was fascinated by Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and geography and I was a top student in these subjects. I became inspired to study Agriculture Science because I met a few professors who talked about good agronomy especially green manuring and consequently increasing production. I must say Agriculture to me was my village. Later on I pursued an interest in soil chemistry, and by some default I became interested and entered into plant breeding at IARI, New Delhi. Eventually pursued wheat breeding at the University of Sydney for my Doctoral degree.

 

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