ROTARIANS MEET RAJARAM: Narrabri Rotarians welcomed Dr Sanjaya Rajaram back to Narrabri on Friday, from left, Pat Carberry, Barry Keys, Dr Kedar Adhikari, Vesna Rendulic, Rotary president Daryl Bartlett, Dr Rajaram, Michael Carrigan and Clive Norrie.
The winner of the World Food Prize, the agricultural research equivalent of the Nobel Prize, Dr Sanjaya Rajaram, returned to say ‘thanks’ to Narrabri last week.
“I owe it all to Narrabri” the world renowned plant breeder told an audience of Narrabri Rotarians and researchers at the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI)on Friday.
Dr Rajaram is the keynote speaker at the 9th International Wheat Conference in Sydney this week.
Last year he was awarded the World Food Prize for his work in developing 480 new wheat varieties which have been adopted in 51 countries and provide the annual wheat consumption for more than one billion people.
Dr Sanjaya Rajaram was raised in a small village in India, and undertook his PhD studies at Sydney University supported by a scholarship funded by Narrabri Rotary.
He initially came to Narrabri and moved between Sydney University and his research at the PBI.
He ultimately became head of the world famous International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. He worked as a young researcher at CIMMYT with ‘father of the Green Revolution’ the Nobel Laureate, legendary Dr Norman Borlaug and took over the directorship when Dr Borlaug retired.
“In the beginning, Narrabri Rotary funded me” Dr Rajaram said. “I thank you for what you did for me.”
The 2014 World Food Prize winner Dr Sanjaya Rajaram recalled his early days in Narrabri as a young student at a gathering of Rotarians and Plant Breeding Institute personnel on Friday.
Dr Rajaram, now retired, is in Australia to attend two international conferences.
He made a special trip to Narrabri to say ‘thanks’ to Narrabri Rotarians for the club’s financial support in 1962 which helped fund his PhD studies.
“I wanted to come back to Narrabri to thank you for what you did for me 50 years ago” he said.
“Narrabri was the beginning of my story.
“I was a young, 22 year old kid from a small Indian village alone in Narrabri.
“It was a culture shock for me, and I am sure for you” he told the audience.
Dr Rajaram recounted his journey from Narrabri to achieving the highest recognition in agricultural science at a ceremony where he was presented with the World Food Prize by US Secretary of State Mr John Kerry.
“It was a long gestation, but you made that happen” he said to the Narrabri audience.
“I regard Narrabri as being my making. It would not have been possible without Rotary and Narrabri.’
He recalled the names of people who supported him including Alan King, Lawrence Perry, George Freeman and others.
Dr Rajaram’s PhD was supervised by Professor Irwin Watson and he worked alongside Plant Breeding Institute director Mr Nick
Derera in Narrabri.
He recalled Mr Derera as a somewhat intimidating figure who ran a tight ship.
“He was a hard driver, but I survived and we became good friends” he said.
His days in Narrabri included attendance at regular Rotary dinners and learning to ride a horse.
“I was getting to be a pretty good cowboy.”
Dr Rajaram’s journey began in 1965 and he returned to India in 1968.
“I received a letter from Dr Norman Borlaug in Mexico asking me to go and help with his breeding program.
“Dr Borlaug and Prof. Watson had been classmates at Minnesota University.
“He asked Prof Watson if he knew anybody who could join him and Prof Watson said ‘I have this Indian student, he might be interested.’
“After two years, Dr Borlaug asked me to stay on and take over the wheat breeding program.
“My preparation at Narrabri was critical [to this].
“I made sure everyone knew that you pioneered my education at Narrabri” he said.
After 33 years at CIMMYT Rajaram joined the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as Director of Integrated Gene Management before retiring in 2008.
Dr Rajaram said all technologies were important to continue to take wheat breeding forward, including GM, used very carefully and not lightly. He said he would like to see the public and private sectors working together for the benefit of agriculture.
Responding to Dr Rajaram’s comments, Narrabri Rotarian Michael Carrigan thanked him for coming to Narrabri and his generous acknowledgement of Narrabri’s part in his career.
“You are one of Rotary and the Narrabri community’s treasures and we are proud to have been able to assist you in some small way’ Michael said.
Director, IA Watson Research Centre, Narrabri Professor Richard Trethowan spoke of the impact of Dr Rajaram’s work manifested in many varieties over the past 50 years. Dr. Rajaram’s work has made a significant contribution to poverty reduction and global food security.