September 2010
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Dr. M.V. Rao

One of the most accomplished scientists of the country, has extensive experience in the development of wheat varieties. Notable Recipient of PADMASRI in addition to Norman Borlaug Award and several other awards. Published more than 100 papers, guided 25 M.Sc. & Ph.D. students.

Backgrounder:Born in a farmers family on 21st June 1928 in a Coastal village of Perupalem, was brought up in West Godavari District where his father owned 50 acres of paddy & coconut gardens.

Brought up on the farm it had profound effect to work for improving the agricultural production and productivity and also alleviate poverty among the less privileged people in the villages. The influence of my parents and, the training and upbringing by them inculcated in me a sense of discipline, reverence for religion and hard work and integrity.

At no stage the idea of a particular career was in my mind at that school stage because my parents and most of our relatives were farmers and none of them had higher education.

Education: Left school in 1944 to join Hindu College, Guntur for Intermediate, joined the Pittapur Raja’s College, Kakinada in the B.Sc., Biological Sciences with Botany as major and Zoology and Chemistry as minors. I worked hard and passed the final examination in first class and standing second in the University.

This study at PR College changed my course of life. One of the Botany teachers Sri Sreeramulu was responsible for my taking to scientific career to control of wheat rust which was devastating the second most important food crop of India namely wheat whenever it appeared in an epidemic form leading to starvation, famines and deaths. Sri Sreeramulu after his very emotional lecture said if one of you can control this dreaded disease and save the wheat crop from losses you will be doing the greatest service to the country. His emotional lecture stuck in my mind and an idea got rooted in my mind. Why not I work on wheat rust and help the country?? This is the second lesson of my life. The next step was to go for higher studies for M.Sc. I choose the Botany Department of Agra College, Agra headed by Dr K C Mehta who was an authority on wheat rust in India. I studied with determination and completed M.Sc degree programme in first division standing first in Agra University.

I was given the Lord Reading Damodar Science Prize which is given to the best student of Agra College who is not only good in studies but also in sports. Being a farmers son and having led a tough life on the farm I took keen interest in games and sports throughout school and college days and used to win a number of prizes. I represented the school, college and university in football which was my favourite game. My desire to work on wheat rust and its control slightly faltered under the influence of my friends who persuaded me to compete for the Indian Administrative Service which is the most coveted service in India. When I sought the advice of my Professor Dr Saligram Sinha, he was visibly upset and angry and what he said at that time was the third lesson of my life. He said, having come in first class and first in the University I thought you will develop into a good scientist but I am ashamed that you would like to go for a clerical post of administrative service. I strongly advise that you drop your idea of the administrative service and stick to your science. Having got the admonition from my teacher I decided to be a scientist.

To achieve my life’s goal of controlling wheat rust is to work at a place where active work is going on this subject. The place where the work is going on the subject was the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (former Imperial Agricultural Research Institute) at New Delhi. Dr B P Pal who was an authority on wheat breeding at that time took personal interest to train me as a wheat breeder when I joined the institute.

Career: As Research Assistant in the Botany Division (now Genetics Division) and joined the position on 10th January 1952 and continued my work on wheat for the next 30 years without a break, concentrating on producing wheat varieties that are resistant to rust. I worked with missionary zeal and was fairly successful in producing a series of rust resistant varieties such as NP Nos. 846, 847, 860,863,865,870,871,875, 876, 878 and 880. These varieties combined the good characteristics of the well adapted wheat varieties of India with considerable amount of resistance to rust. When some of these varieties were ready for release for commercial cultivation after the All India Coordinated Wheat Trials the whole scenario of wheat improvement in India got into a revolutionary mode with the identification of dwarf, input responsive, rust resistant wheat varieties from the Rockfeller Foundation Programme of Mexico headed by Dr Norman E Borlaug. In the International Spring Wheat Rust Nurseries which I was handling at IARI I chanced to locate the dwarf wheat varieties for the first time in India in the rabi crop season of 1961-62 and the plant type fascinated me as an answer to increase wheat production under good input management. Dr B P Pal, Dr M S Swaminathan, Rao Bahadur Chowdhary Ramdhan Singh, Dr S M Sikka, Dr T R Mehta and other well known wheat scientists found lot of scope and opportunity for dwarf varieties. The seed of these dwarf varieties was imported in large quantities from Mexico at the initiative of Shri C Subramanian, Dr B P Pal and Dr M S Swaminathan and distributed to farmers. The farmers got immense benefit and they could increase their wheat yields by 40 to 50% under good management.

The chance finding of the dwarf varieties was the start of the wheat revolution in India. The Indian wheat breeders by their ingenuity developed later a series of wheat varieties which combined dwarf nature of the Mexican Wheat varieties with good grain quality and adaptability of the Indian wheats. In a short period of time the wheat production went up from 12.4 million tons in 1964-65 to 26.2 million tons in 1971-72 and we never looked back till it reached 76 million tons in 2000 AD. India became the second biggest wheat producing country in the world surpassing even America from where India used to import large quantities of wheat to feed the millions in the country. India also used to import wheat from Canada, Argentina and Australia but today India’s wheat production is more than the combined production of all these three countries. Wheat Revolution is the precursor for the Green Revolution in the country and foodgrain production has gone up very significantly in all the major crops. Famines which used to visit regularly in the past killing lakhs of people is never witnessed again after the Green Revolution.

India has emerged as the third biggest foodgrain producer and second highest producer of rice and wheat in the world. In the whole wheat programme of the country I played my own humble role first as Research Assistant from 1952 to 1956; as Assistant Wheat Breeder Incharge of Delhi Centre of IARI from 1956 to 1958; as Associate Professor from 1958 to 1963; as Rockfeller Foundation Fellow from 1963-66, as Genecist at IARI from 1966 to 68; as Senior Genecist coordinating all wheat researches encompassing all the disciplines at IARI and various research stations from 1968-71 and as Coordinator of the All India Coordinated Wheat Improvement Project which was the largest wheat programme in the world from 1972-78 and as the first Project Director of the Wheat Project Directorate from 1978-81. From 1981-86, I was given the responsibility of coordinating all researches of all the food, commercial and horticultural crops, plant protection and seed production as Deputy Director General of Crop Sciences of the ICAR. This gave me an opportunity to strengthen researches in major crops by establishing a series of National Research Centres for groundnut, rapeseed mustard, soybean, directorate of oilseeds, pulses, oil palm, banana, onion and garlic, citrus, medicinal plants, grapes, arid zona fruits, temperate fruits, mango and orchids. Horticulture received high priority in my thinking to improve the nutrition of people, since the Green Revolution has already helped to increase production of rice, wheat and other cereals. In 1986 I was called upon to assume responsibility of the Technology Mission on Oilseeds initiated by our late Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhiji to make India self-sufficient for vegetable oils and, reduce the heavy import bills.

Through the cooperation given by farmers, scientists, administrators, policy makers and marketing agencies, in a short period the Mission succeeded in doubling the oilseed production and reduced very significantly the import bill. The change brought in the oilseed scenario was termed as the Yellow Revolution.

After retiring from the service of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research after serving for 38 years continuously, I worked as an agricultural expert in the World Bank for one year and later as the Vice Chancellor of A.P. Agricultural University (now called Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University) for two terms of six years. During this period the Government of India appointed me as the Chairman of the National Seed Policy Review Committee to review the whole Indian seed industry both public and private and prepare a policy paper that will guide the seed industry in the country. After a wide range of consultations a series of recommendations were made to the government to reorganize the seed sector. This report helped to prepare the National Seed Policy of the Government of India subsequently. In addition to the commitments at the ANGRAU I served as the Chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Netherlands Biotechnology Programme, Chairman of the Hunger Project for Andhra Pradesh for reducing hunger in some selected districts and President of Scientific Societies. I also participated in a number of national and international seminars and also delivered a number of convocation addresses in State agricultural universities etc. I also visited Libya, Nepal, Ethiopia and Uganda to advise on reorganization of wheat research or agricultural research and education. I also organized two international seminars as the Organizing Secretary.

During my career I headed Indian agricultural delegations to USSR, France, Bangladesh and Nepal and visited over 30 countries. I was also a visiting scientist of the Royal Society of Great Britain at Cambridge. Besides, I also participated in a number of international scientific conferences. I strongly believe that India should never be complacent on the agricultural or food front because of the growing demands of the ever growing population and its diversified needs. Agricultural scientists have special responsibility to make India food secure with their researches and technologies. Also they have to be ever vigilant in the changing WTO and global scenario.

The Wheat Revolution and the Yellow Revolution in India, the strengthening of agricultural research and developmental activities through establishment of a series of National Research Centres. Developing the Seed Policy of the Government of India.

Visited a number of countries that included USA, Canada, Mexico, England, Spain, Portugal, France, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, USSR, Italy, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, China, Hongkong, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. Visit to all these countries gave an opportunity to study the work of different scientific institutions and scientists. I feel our scientists are second to none in the world. If we give them proper support, environment and encouragment, they will bring great credit to the country.

The Indian scientists command lot of respect in foreign countries. 8. Since my goal was to make India self-sufficient for food I did not develop any hobbies that diverted my attention. I had to be continuously travelling to all the Research Stations located in all the States of India to interact and encourage scientists. There are very few countries in the world like India which are blessed with the excellent favourable conditions of soil and climate for increasing agricultural production. If these are properly exploited there will be no shortage of any agricultural commodities and India can be a green power in the world

Although retired officially in 1988 I continue to be active and keep myself busy as ever. I am serving as a Chairman of a number of committees of the ICAR, Government of India and also serving as the Chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Netherlands Biotechnology Programme (which has now become a separate registered society under the name Agri Biotech Foundation of which I am the Founder President). In this project we adopted seven districts of Andhra Pradesh for agricultural development. I also adopted West Godavari District as a Member of the Legislative Council of Government of Andhra Pradesh. I continue to participate in different national and international seminars, deliver keynote addresses or deliver convocation addresses in the universities.

My advice to the younger generation is never to worry about career and position but concentrate on the work and set specific goals in life. Promotions and jobs and recognitions will come automatically based on your work and contributions. There will be always be well wishing seniors who watch your work and contributions and encourage you so that you can make more contributions through appropriate higher positions. Merit should be the watch word and a qualification always to strive for.

Even the awards that came in my life came automatically and I never worked for them. My very sincere advise to the younger generation is fix a goal in life after careful thought, plan it well, executive it and achieve the goal. This gives you immense satisfaction and recognition and, laurels will automatically follow. My first priority in my order of liking is a research followed by extension and management. I was involved with all these activities during my career. I considered besides individual initiative, team work is the most critical to achieve goals. One should develop abilities to work with different people belonging to different disciplines and also carry the administrators, policy makers, farmers and industrialists. If one has got the ability he will be very successful in life.


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