World Agriculture Prize winner Ronnie Coffman (right) and Cornell graduate student Ariel Chan (left) observe broccoli plants in Mahabaleshwar, India, in January 2013, during the International Agriculture and Rural Development 602 class. CREDIT: D.Branchini/IPCALS
Ronnie Coffman's efforts are being recognized by the inaugural World Agriculture Prize, awarded by the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA), an organization that represents more than 600 universities worldwide. As a rice breeder at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines in the 1970's, Coffman, Ph.D. '71, helped one generation survive the ravages of war by ensuring food security throughout Southeast Asia.
As leader of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative-and the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development- he is helping another generation combat new strains of wheat rust that threaten to devastate world food supplies. Recently he was in India to attend the global technical workshop on wheat at New Delhi. Professor Coffman had then disclosed that India had three varieties - Super 152, Super 172 and Baj - that were resistant to stem rust. Besides, 37 more varieties were in the pipeline.
As the professor behind Cornell's popular "Agriculture in Developing Nations" course, director of International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP-CALS), and organizer of Ph.D. training courses at the West African Center for Crop Improvement, he is mentoring the next generation of plant breeders and international development professionals.
"The world's farmers need access to the best science that the many great institutions of GCHERA can deliver in order to produce crops that are nutritionally adequate and best adapted to future challenges," Coffman said during his acceptance speech at Nanjing Agricultural University in China on Oct. 20.
New technologies - including biotechnologies - must be made accessible to all the world's farmers so that nutritionally superior seeds that are well adapted to climate change are put in the hands of farmers with limited resources, he added.