DES MOINES — A crop scientist credited with developing hundreds of varieties of disease-resistant wheat adaptable to many climates and difficult growing conditions was named Wednesday as the 2014 recipient of the World Food Prize.
Sanjaya Rajaram, 71, wins the $250,000 prize founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug that honors vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world.
Rajaram, who was born in India and is a citizen of Mexico, began research and field work with Borlaug in 1969. He successfully crossed varieties of winter and spring wheat with his own plant breeding techniques, which led to the development of plants that have higher yields and dependability under a wide range of environments — important in keeping pace with the growing world population.
He is credited with developing 480 wheat varieties that have been released in 51 countries on six continents.
"It's a great honor," Rajaram said. "I'm a very humble person but very honored the World Food Prize committee has recognized me for the work I have done."
The next big challenge, Rajaram believes, is developing plants with more drought tolerance, staving off the effects of salt water intrusion as oceans rise, and other issues related to climate change.
"Future crop production is bound to decline unless we fully factor in the issues related to climate change, soil fertility and water deficits, and utilize advanced genetics in the next 20 to 30 years," he said in a telephone interview.
Rajaram was born in a small village in the Uttar Pradesh state in northeast India, where people lived on very little. He expanded upon his mentor Borlaug's work with his own achievements, said World Food Prize Foundation President Kenneth Quinn.
"His breakthrough breeding technologies have had a far-reaching and significant impact in providing more food around the globe and alleviating world hunger," Quinn said in a statement.