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Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush: Feeding The World

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Sikh scientists such as Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush are the pride of our community.

With his dedication and hard work, he has developed more than 200 varieties of rice. These modern rice varieties helped avert a major catastrophe in recent world history. The catastrophe? The explosion in the world's population without an equal explosion in the world's food supply would have proved a disaster.

Because farmers adopted these modern varieties, the world's supply of rice doubled in just 25 years - from 257 million tons in 1966 to 520 million tons in 1990. What's more, most of the major rice-producing countries became self-sufficient. Massive starvation had been avoided - for the moment!

And the major force behind this profound increase in the world's food supply was Dr. Gurdev Singh. Khush, a plant breeder and geneticist at the International Rice Rsearch Institute ("IRRI") in the Phillipines.

More than 60% of the worlds' ricefields are planted with varieties developed under his leadership. In other words, when you pass or set foot in a ricefield anywhere in the world, it is likely the variety you see was developed by Gurdev Singh and his team.

Gurdev was born into a Sikh family in the Jalandhar district of Punjab. The eldest of four children, he grew up on a wheat farm and helped with plowing, sowing, tending, and harvesting.

Considering his global effect on irrigated rice farming, his first memory is a significant one: making small fields and irrigating them with water from a small pit. Gurdev aspired to contribute to the betterment of society, and so he studied hard in school.

Graduating at the top of his class in high school was only the beginning of high academic achievement. Throughout his university career, at what is now Punjab Agricultural University, he was always among the top three students. In 1955, he graduated with a degree in plant breeding.

After graduation from the university, Gurdev Singh sought further education and opportunity abroad. He borrowed money from his relatives to purchase an airline ticket to England where he worked in a canning factory. In 18 months, he saved enough money to pay back his relatives and to buy a ticket to the USA.

His academic excellence led to an offer of a student assistantship at the University of California, Davis, where he earned his Ph.D. in genetics.

At Davis, Gurdev was fortunate to be able to study under world-famous geneticist Dr. G. Ledyard Stebbins. After completing his studies in 1960, he stayed on at UC Davis until 1967, doing groundbreaking research with Professor Charles M. Rick on the cytogenetics of tomatoes and writing an authoritative reference on cytogenetics.

During this busy period, he still found time to travel to Punjab to meet and later marry Harwant Kaur Grewal. They had four children.

In 1967, Gurdev joined IRRI and has been at the forefront in improving rice varieties ever since. Prior to the beginning of the Green Revolution, varieties of rice took 6 - 7 months to mature and yielded about 1 - 2 tons per hectare. Gurdev modified the plant by reducing its height, shortening maturing time, and increasing response to fertilizers. Under optimal conditions, these plants can yield up to 10 tons per hectare.

During his career at IRRI, Gurdev has visited more than 60 rice-growing countries and has been a consultant in rice improvement programs in many of them. He has also trained rice breeders from around the world, served as major professor for M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, and laid the groundwork for rice breeding programs in many places.

During his distinguished career, Gurdev has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. Among the many are the prestigious Japan Prize from the Japan Center for Science and Technology in 1987 and the World Food Prize in 1996 that he shared with retired IRRI colleague, Henry Beachell.

He has served as consultant to rice breeding programs of 15 countries as well as The Rockefeller Foundation, The Third World Academy of Sciences, Italy, and the International Science Foundation, Sweden. He is now serving as a member of Scientific Advisory Committee (overseas) to the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.

In 2000, he was awarded The Wolf Prize for Agriculture, and in 2007 The Golden Sickle Award. Currently, he has returned to California where he continues his work on developing more productive food resources.

Commenting on his life work, Dr Cantrell, Director of the International Rice Research Institute said, "While Dr Gurdev Singh Khush's name may have passed the lips of many, his life's work has passed lips of almost half the humanity".

 

Courtesy: Sikh-History.com

May 10, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Surinder Sikand (Foster City, California, U.S.A.), May 10, 2010, 12:10 PM.

A service to the international community through one's vocation!

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 10, 2010, 4:30 PM.

If you have a plateful of rice in front of you, and are going to offer a brief Grace: 'Dadaa daataa ayk hai sabh ka-o dayvanhaar/ daynday tot na aavaee agnat bharay bhandaar' [GGS:257.10] - 'The One Lord is the Great Giver, He is the Giver of all/ There is no limit to His Giving/ His countless warehouses are filled to overflowing.' You would be amiss if you didn't include the name of Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush in your prayers, that Waheguru made his sevak an architect to bring about a Green Revolution to avert a food crisis in the world for decades to come. My brief moment of brushing against his hem came many long years ago. This brief encounter was due to my chance meeting with S. Amrik Singh Gill, a tea estate executive that I met in Ooty in 1979. Gurdev and Amrik are brothers in law, being married to the two lovely sisters, Harvant and Raj. Gurdev Singh's down to earth approach and a hug had an immediate rapport, and we promptly embarked on an exchange of the latest jokes in chaste Punjabi. I missed him during his recent visit to Malaysia a few months ago when he was honoured by the Academy of Sciences for his signal contribution to humanity. The likes of Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush are rare, and rarer still who remain humble despite a tsunami of fame: 'Kahu naanak sabh tayree vadi-aa-ee ko-ee naa na jaanai mayraa' [GGS:383.12] - 'Says Nanak, this is all Your Greatness; no one even knows my name.'

3: Charlie Cheema (Livermore, California, U.S.A.), May 10, 2010, 5:09 PM.

Excellent work and dedication.

4: Jeet Sandhu (Sacramento, California, U.S.A.), May 11, 2010, 8:40 PM.

We are all so proud of you. It warms our heart when we hear your praises. You served Waheguru with all that he showered upon you.

5: Gurinder Singh Johal  (Amritsar, Punjab), May 13, 2010, 7:02 PM.

An inspiring character. But the rice crop is decreasing the ground water level in Punjab, which is now a matter of great concern here. Yet, the achievement of Dr. Gurdev Singh ji is remarkable!

6: Bhagat Singh Taggar (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 01, 2010, 5:04 PM.

Gurdev was my high school class-mate and friend. He was an outstanding student and a decent human being. I am proud of him. In fact, Punjab is proud of him. Unfortunately, I lost his telephone number as I lost my diary during international travel. If some one can send his contact details, I will be grateful.

7: Inderjit Kaur Randhawa (Jabalpur, India), July 22, 2010, 4:45 PM.

A very true human being. For the cause of humanity, this research has come to great success. He must promote the young scientists, as always a role model is required. May God bless him.

8: Amarjit Singh Wasan (Singapore), May 19, 2011, 6:46 PM.

We were very fortunate in having known and socialized with Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush and family for many years in the Philippines whilst I worked for ADB in Manila. Our association started with the monthly kirtan sessions that the small expat Sikh community had together in Manila and Los Banos where about a dozen families resided. Few may know that Dr Khush is also an acknowledged expert on Sikh history and our kirtan sessions always devoted ten minutes to a lecture on such by him. Inspite of all the fame he had achieved, he amazed all of us with his humility, his affection and his most helpful nature. He always had a good word for everybody and his calm and charming disposition has made lasting impressions on so many. He is a true and sincere friend, besides being a top-notch scientist and multiple-awarded rice supremo.

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