World Food Prize laureate Rajaram says technology key to ending hunger

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2014 - World Food Prize laureate Sanjaya Rajaram told a Washington audience that developing countries can use improvements in seed technology and more modern farming techniques to help feed burgeoning populations.

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The plant scientist received the prize on World Food Day last week in Des Moines, Iowa, for research that is credited with increasing world wheat production by more than 200 million tons. Rajaram, who succeeded Norman Borlaug - the famed “father of the Green Revolution” - as the leader of the wheat breeding team at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, said modern agriculture technology can be used in the developing world.

“I cannot differentiate the technology which the big farmers and corporations use and the technology which would be needed by the very small farmers,” Rajaram said Wednesday at the 2014 World Food Day Discussion, an event hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the National Geographic Society. The focus of the event revolved around family farms, in the U.S. and abroad, and Rajaram directed his remarks at the smallest of family farms in the developing world.

Rajaram is known for his prolific efforts in wheat hybridization, developing 480 varieties of the crop that have been released in 51 countries on six continents. Rajaram was able to expand on Borlaug's research and develop wheat varieties that today are grown on more than 143 million acres of land around the world.

In his remarks, Rajaram highlighted success stories involving the spread of agricultural technology to the developing world. He told of work to reduce a boron deficiency that led to a small farm yielding a net profit, a maize study in Mexico using a hybrid with a 60 percent yield improvement, and the survival rate of goat kids tripling with the use of common vaccines. Rajaram said there are many other examples of how seemingly minor examples of technology use can lead to major improvements in developing countries.

“If those are upscaled at the village level in those remote areas, I believe we can solve a lot of problems,” Rajaram said.

He pointed out that in many areas, access to resources like credit and available land are hindering producers, who often don't even have adequate road systems to move their products to market. Countries in the developing world also often lack the stability to produce sound policies that would help small farms improve their production, he said.

In his repeated pleas for the spread of technology to these small farms in developing countries, Rajaram was referencing things that might sound like commonplace to American producers. He never once mentioned precision agriculture, nor did he reference tractors, combines, or advanced machinery of any kind.

Rajaram said the knowledge of agricultural advances often doesn't make it to the remote areas that could greatly benefit from higher-production hybrids. He specifically mentioned the need for agricultural organizations such as cooperatives as ways to educate producers, many of which never had access to formal schooling.

Without the use of hybrids, soil management, and better use of fertilizer, Rajaram said the problem of world hunger could simply continue for generations to come.

“If you want to keep the traditional technology for them to follow, we (are) basically preaching poverty in perpetuity,” Rajaram said. “They will remain poor, they have been for thousands and thousands of years.”

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