alute to this land of Gurus harbouring the ability to respond to every call with great vigour, honour and humility – whether for fierce freedom fighters to free the nation from shackles of slavery, for braveheart soldiers at borders to protect the nation or for dedicated scientists to shoulder Green Revolution to transform India from ‘food-deficit’ to ‘food-surplus’ country.
It is a matter of pride that the Punjab state, the ‘Granary of India,’ is bestowed with an honour to have three World Food Prize Laureates out of 45. These sons of Punjab soils – Drs Gurdev Singh Khush, Surinder Kumar Vasal and Rattan Lal brought glory to the state and the country through their remarkable, exceptionally significant and demonstrable achievements in food production and nutrition, and for sustainable agricultural intensification.
The World Food Prize is the foremost international honour to recognize the achievements of individuals who have advanced the human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world through their creative interventions.
Dr Norman E Borlaug, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work in global agriculture, envisioned this award to honour those who have made significant and measurable contributions in improving the world’s food supply. His vision was realized when the World Food Prize was created in 1986, with a $250,000 annual award amount, sponsored by General Foods Corporation.
Punjab Agricultural university remembers Punjab’s heroes
High yielding multiple resistant rice variety IR 64, developed by this rice-man in 1985, became the most widely grown variety of rice across the world. By 1990s, it was grown on more than 10 million hectares of rice area. Dr Khush modified the rice plant by reducing its height, shortening maturing time and increasing response to fertilizers. Most of the major rice-growing countries became self-sufficient in rice production and several have an exportable surplus. For his monumental contributions to the World Food Security, Dr Khush has been honoured with numerous awards and honours which include Japan Prize (1987), Emil M Mark International Award (1989), Rank Prize (1998), International Agricultural Cooperation Award (1999), Friendship Award from Government of China (1999), Wolf Prize in Agriculture (2000), Padma Shri Award (2000), International Khwarizmi Award (2004), Golden Sickle Award (2007) and Mahathir Science Award in 2009. The PAU has named its School of Agricultural Biotechnology building as GS Khush Biotechnology laboratories.
Dr Surinder Kumar Vasal and Dr Evangelina Villegas
They were co-recipients of the Millennium World Food Prize in 2000. Their combined work improved the diets of millions of the world’s most underfed and poorly nourished citizens, especially, children. Dr Vasal was born in Amritsar in 1938. He did B.Sc. Agriculture from Khalsa College, Amritsar in 1957 and doctoral degree in Genetics and Plant Breeding from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi in 1966.
The conventional maize, with lysine and tryptophan deficient protein, is a poor quality staple food. Integrating cereal chemistry and plant breeding techniques, Drs Vasal and Villegas collaborated to produce high-quality protein maize with hard kernel characteristics and palatable taste similar to the traditional grain, but with higher levels of lysine and tryptophan content in protein, thus, enhancing the nutrition value of maize. The research and development of high-quality protein maize has spread from Mexico throughout Latin America and to Africa, Europe and Asia and improved quality maize varieties were grown on roughly nine million acres worldwide by 1999. Babies and adults consuming high protein quality maize proved healthier and at lower risk for malnutrition disorders such as Marasmus and Kwashiorkor.
Dr Vasal is also the recipient of International Service in Crop Science Award (1996), International Agronomy Award (1999), in addition to accolades from governments or institutions in Honduras, Peru, Panama and India including Dr MS Swaminathan Award (2008).
Dr Rattan Lal
Dr Lal was appointed as Soil Physicist at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria. In 1987, he returned to Ohio State University and established the Carbon Management and Sequestration Centre in 2000 where his breakthrough research showed how atmospheric carbon can be sequestered in soils. His pioneering research on the restoration of soil health in Africa, Asia and Latin America impacted agricultural yields, natural resource conservation and climate change mitigation. His innovative research helped about 500 million small farmers through improved management, less soil degradation and recycling of nutrients.
He emphasized that sustainable management of soil and agriculture is also essential to keep the global temperature within the safe range and for restoring the environment. Dr Lal is presently serving as Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and Founding Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Centre, OSU, USA. The prior accolades recognizing his exceptional energy and insight he applies to the crusade for conservation around the world include the Japan Prize (2019), the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for the Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA) World Agriculture Prize (2018), the Glinka World Soil Prize (2018), the Liebig Award (2006), and in India, Dr MS Swaminathan Award (2009) and the Norman Borlaug Award (2005).
The ground-breaking research and awareness by these World Food Prize Laureates to translate research by international, national and government institutions into impact at the community and farmer level, is a matter of pride and inspiration for every Punjabi and Indian citizen. Realising the impact of their research in making a difference at the global level makes faculty and students of PAU feel ecstatic while walking through corridors of the College of Agriculture. We feel proud to be a part of this great institution.
The writers of the article are: Dr. Baldev Singh Dhillon is a Padam Shri Awardee and Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University and Surinder Sandhu a principal maize breeder