By N. Weber
The Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program announced 12 recipients of the program’s 2009 fellowships today at the Borlaug Dialogue at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.
Ten nations are represented among the recipients, who are receiving a full package of support to pursue their Ph.D., which will include research on rice and wheat breeding. Projects include cold tolerance in rice, mapping sources of resistance to stem rust in durum wheat and developing biofortified rice for Latin America. A complete listing of the winners and their projects is available on the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program Web page.
The program honors the accomplishments of Dr. Henry Beachell and Dr. Norman Borlaug, who pioneered plant breeding and research in rice and wheat, respectively.
Monsanto Vice President of Global Plant Breeding Ted Crosbie announced the winners at the World Food Prize, which “recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.”
“The World Food Prize is the best event to announce the recipients, as Monsanto and the Beachell-Borlaug program committee truly believe these young scientists fit the description of the World Food Prize’s goal of honoring those who are committed to ‘improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world’,” said Crosbie. “The students’ research work has the potential to help solve critical issues facing two of the most important crops in the world.”
Of the 12 winners, five are pursuing their Ph.D. at U.S. universities, two in Australia, and one each in Argentina, Canada, China, Colombia and Italy. The program calls for award recipients to conduct at least one season of field work in a developing country.
“The committee was extremely pleased at the quality of the submissions for the first year,” said Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program Director Dr. Ed Runge. “It was great to see such a diverse group of candidates from all over the world submit their research projects for review. Dr. Beachell and Dr. Borlaug dedicated their lives to improving rice and wheat breeding in order to feed the world, and the committee is certain the 12 recipients—and all of those who submitted projects—will carry on their legacies.”
An independent panel of global judges chaired by Runge reviewed the applications. Runge is also a professor and Billie B. Turner Chair in Production Agronomy (Emeritus) within the Soil and Crop Sciences Department, Texas A&M University at College Station.
The program will begin accepting applications for 2010 beginning Nov. 1. Students interested in applying to the program can find more details at www.monsanto.com/mbbischolars. Applications will be accepted until Feb. 1, 2010.
Monsanto is funding the program for a total of $10 million. The program is administered by Texas AgriLife Research, an agency of the Texas A&M University System.
Plant breeding is both an art and science practiced for thousands of years in agriculture. A breeder works with a specific plant species to help encourage desired characteristics, like larger grain size, heartier stalks, or greater tolerance to environmental stress, among others, to improve the next generation of plants.
Rice and wheat are considered by many to be the most important staple crops in developing countries, providing necessary calories to feed billions of people every day. Many of the world's poorest people rely on the two grains as a key source of food. In 2008 farmers produced nearly 440 million metric tons of rice and more than 680 million metric tons of wheat. Yet, yields of rice and wheat have grown on a compound annual growth rate of approximately 0.8 percent over the past decade while the population has grown on a compound annual growth rate of approximately 1.25 percent during the same time period. Accelerating yield growth will help to reduce hunger by helping to produce more food on the same number of acres.
Fathers of the Green Revolution
Dr. Borlaug recently passed away, but he remained active in the fight against world hunger until his death in September. Along with his work through Texas A&M University, he chaired the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative and was involved in the World Food Prize and Borlaug Fellows Program established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He collaborated with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and through the SG 2000 partnership of Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) and the Carter Center. He was a plant pathologist and plant breeder whose efforts to develop and deliver improved wheat varieties have been credited with saving more than a billion people from starvation. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions. Borlaug was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2006. In addition to Borlaug, only four people have been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, The Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize: Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elie Wiesel.
Beachell was a world-renowned plant breeder whose cultivation of a new rice plant led to greatly increased yields of the crop in developing countries of Asia. While working for the International Rice Research Institute in the 1960s, Beachell and others crossed rice plants to produce a new variety called IR8. The resulting plant produced more heads of rice on a shorter and stronger stalk. IR8 is credited with savings millions of lives in Asia. For his work, Beachell received the World Food Prize in 1996 with Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush.
The extraordinary contributions of the two men have come to be known as the “Green Revolution.”
The establishment of Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program is part of Monsanto's three-point commitment to help increase global food production in the face of growing demand, limited natural resources and a changing climate. The company pledged in June 2008 to work in new partnerships with other businesses, citizen groups and governments to meet the needs for increased food, fiber and energy while protecting the environment. Monsanto's three-point commitment to growing yieldssustainably includes the development of better seeds, conservation of resources and helping to improve farmers' lives.