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Klaus Lampe, IRRI’s fifth director general, passes away in Germany

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09 February 2024, Germany: Klaus J. Lampe, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI, 1988-95), passed away peacefully on 6 February in his native Germany. He was 92.

Dr. Lampe was an innovative leader and visionary during his 7 years at IRRI’s helm. 

His coordination of research teams from different disciplines resulted in the increased efficiency of growing rice, a crop that continues to provide the basic food supply for around half of the world’s population.

With his guidance, IRRI revised the organization of its research from a discipline-oriented structure to a matrix management model in 1990. The matrix was adopted as a means of ensuring the relevance of research programs and projects to IRRI’s goals, while maintaining scientific excellence.

“It was under his leadership that IRRI identified a new strategy for the 21st century and began to take bolder risks for exploring new avenues of research, international cooperation, and management of international research support services to cope with the new challenges,” said IRRI Interim Director General Ajay Kohli, who in the early 90s was himself a beneficiary of the Asian Rice Biotechnology Network (ARBN) at IRRI. ARBN was another visionary initiative of Dr. Lampe to kick start the use of biotechnology in agriculture in general and for rice in particular, then led by biotechnologist Dr. John Bennett, through support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Asian Development Bank.

During his IRRI Pioneer interview in 2008, Dr. Lampe envisioned that there would be five tasks still valid for IRRI in 2050: (1) to house the base collection of the world’s rice germplasm and perform the many related and necessary evaluation, research, preservation, and utilization functions; (2) to collect, evaluate, select, and make accessible information on current rice research and development programs, rice and rice-related research, and global rice research resources—human, financial, and physical; (3) to retain a response capability, which can catalyze the use of those resources through internationally recruited teams working on topics of supra-national importance; (4) to organize and convene conferences, task forces, and seminars to facilitate the information exchange and to focus on resolving a host of emerging problems; and (5) to define research needs that existing research centers around the world can deal with.

Other key achievements during the Lampe era included the planting of the first generation of a new rice plant type, led by Dr. GS Khush, to increase the yield potential of irrigated rice. Also, IRRI and the leaders of national rice research systems in Asia and elsewhere established the basis for a new style of partnership: the sharing of international responsibility in rice research through ecosystem-based research consortia that linked national program institutions. This built the cornerstone for IRRI’s latest work with Seeds without Borders among many other initiatives.

In 1994, Dr. Lampe championed the establishment of the Rice World Museum and Learning Center on campus through which the institute accommodated a wide range of visitors through the years, from students and researchers to heads of state.

Dr. Lampe was born the son of a university professor, Adolf Lampe, on 27 May 1931 in Freiburg, Breisgau, Germany. He studied agronomy in Bonn and received his PhD in 1959 at the Institute of Agricultural Engineering in which he studied damage to potatoes caused by mechanized harvesting.

His first professional work after graduation took him to the German Agricultural Society (DLG) where he initiated activities in developing countries.

Aid was his special concern and hence his passion to support farmers and consumers in the developing world to improve their living conditions, especially in rural areas. In 1963, he was a consultant to the Ministry of Planning in Kabul, Afghanistan. From 1965 to 1968, he was head of a German-Afghan agricultural project in Paktia.

By 1968, back in Germany, Dr. Lampe was appointed head of the Department of Agriculture and an authorized representative of the German Development Agency for Developing Countries (GAWI). From there, he became head of Agriculture and Rural Development in the service of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ). In 1975, he set up the Department of Agriculture, Development, and Health at the Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ Eschborn).

After his time at IRRI, Dr. Lampe’s assignments in the German Government kept him in close contact with the development of CGIAR and other international agricultural research centers. He served on the boards of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and the Asia Vegetable Research and Development Center (now the World Vegetable Center), to mention a few. He was a member of the task force that established the International Service for National Agricultural Research.

Several national and international awards have been bestowed upon Dr. Lampe, including the honorary professorship at the University Zeijang, China; an honorary doctor of science at the University of the Philippines; Indonesia’s Bintang Jasa Utama (highest merit award); and the Golden Heart Presidential Award conferred by Philippine President Fidel Ramos in May 1995. On 14 September 1995, The K.J. Lampe Laboratory (housing the transgenic greenhouse) on the IRRI campus was dedicated to Dr. Lampe as an operational culmination of the ARBN initiative.

In recent years, Dr. Lampe established the Bona Via Foundation (BVF), which funds university scholarships at state universities in the Philippines for youth from less fortunate backgrounds. He was very proud that, so far, 27 young women have been awarded these scholarships. He was determined to carry on and expand the mission and impact of BVF. Donations to the Foundation would be impactful. Those interested in doing so can obtain further information from the Bona Via Foundation website or by email (

Dr. Lampe was preceded in death by his wife Annemarie.

See an additional video clip from his 2008 pioneer interview during which Dr. Lampe talks about attaining inner peace thanks to some timely advice from his spouse, Annemarie, during an IRRI board meeting.

Also Read: Agri-input industry reacts to Union Budget 2024

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