30 August 2022, Iowa: The World Food Prize Foundation has announced that Dr. Mahalingam Govindaraj, Senior Scientist for Crop Development at HarvestPlus and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, will receive the 2022 Norman E. Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, endowed by The Rockefeller Foundation.
World Food Prize Foundation Senior Director Keegan Kautzky made the announcement during the National Symposium on Food, Nutrition and Environmental Security on August 30 in New Delhi, India.
Govindaraj is recognized for his outstanding leadership in mainstreaming biofortified crops, particularly pearl millet, in India and Africa. For more than a decade, he has directed the development and dissemination of high-yielding, high-iron and high-zinc pearl millet varieties that have contributed to better nutrition for thousands of farmers and their communities.
“Pandemics remind us that food and nutrition security must go hand in hand,” Govindaraj said. “Effectively addressing malnutrition requires that staple crops, such as millet, be bred for essential nutrition, in addition to yield.” Govindaraj credits the biofortification alliance with providing the global interdisciplinary opportunity, support and guidance that transformed his research and development in millet. “I’m delighted to receive this global award just ahead of the international year of millets (2023), as interventions like biofortified millet allow us to fill the gap between food and nutrition security.”
In 2014, while working at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Govindaraj released the world’s first biofortified pearl millet, called Dhanashakti. Independent clinical studies showed that 200 grams of Dhanashakti provided women with more than 80 percent of their recommended daily allowance of iron, compared to only 20 percent in regular pearl millet varieties.
Now, more than 120,000 farming households in India grow the specialized crop. Estimates show that, by 2024, more than 9 million people in India will be consuming iron- and zinc-rich pearl millet and reaping the health benefits of better nutrition. Coming from a farming background, Govindaraj saw firsthand the positive impact biofortified crops could have on the nutrition and health of rural communities. He earned his Master of Science and Doctorate degrees in plant breeding and genetics from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and a Bachelor of Science degree from the Agricultural College and Research Institute, Killikulam.
Govindaraj will formally receive the Borlaug Field Award during a ceremony on October 19 at the 2022 Norman E. Borlaug International Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa.
Established in 2011 with a generous endowment by The Rockefeller Foundation, the $10,000 Borlaug Field Award recognizes exceptional science-based achievement in international agriculture and food production by an individual under the age of 40. Awardees emulate the same intellectual courage, stamina and determination in the fight to eliminate global hunger and poverty demonstrated by Dr. Borlaug as a young scientist working in Mexico to develop “miracle wheat.”
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