Scientist Ravi Prakash Singh, a USyd alum, awarded Padma Shri

Mexico-based Singh received the Padma Shri award for leading the fight against wheat diseases.

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The Padma Shri awards ceremony took place in New Delhi on Monday 22 April, with President Draupadi Murmu presenting honours to Indian citizens in recognition of their outstanding contributions in a variety of fields.

Ravi Prakash Singh, a Mexico-based scientist who received the Padma Shri award, has been hailed for his achievement in making wheat strains resistant to rust diseases, protecting the supply of the food grain that is an essential element in diets around the world.

Singh, who is the head of Global Wheat Improvement at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), is originally from Varanasi.

“Singh has contributed to the development of 649 wheat varieties released in 48 countries, working closely with scientists at national wheat programs in the Global South,” Mexico-based CIMMYT said.

Of them, 224 were developed directly under his leadership and are grown on about 10 million hectares, it added.

Singh has worked at the institute since 1983 after obtaining a PhD from the University of Sydney in Australia.

CIMMYT said, “His scientific efforts protect wheat from new races of some of agriculture’s oldest and most devastating diseases, safeguard the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the most vulnerable areas in the world, and enhance food security for the billions of people whose daily nutrition depends on wheat consumption.”

Rust diseases are caused by fungus and their name is derived from the discolouration of the leaves of the affected plant.

He has developed more than 730 climate-resilient, high-yield wheat varieties that benefit small-holder farmers,” according to the institute.

He received the 2021 Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Lifetime Achievement Award.

CYMMIT said that “in the early 2000s, when a highly virulent rust race discovered in East Africa threatened most of the world’s wheat,” Singh sounded the alarm over the outbreak.

That led to the creation of the BGRI and an international cooperative effort to stop the rust known as Ug99, CYMMIT said.

Ravi Prakash Singh
Image: Twitter

Singh’s efforts led to the development of “a series of elite wheat lines” resistant to 12 types of rust diseases and to “new, high temperature-tolerant races of stripe rust fungus that had been evolving and spreading worldwide since the beginning of the 21st century,” the institute said.

Ronnie Coffman, the international professor emeritus of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University and Vice-Chair of BGRI, said when he received the award, “Thanks to Ravi Singh’s vision and applied science, the dire global threat of Ug99 and other rusts has been averted.”

About his pioneering technique, CIMMYT said that Singh helped establish the practice of “pyramiding” several rust-resistance genes into a single variety making it difficult for evolving pathogens to be able to attack the new varieties of wheat, the institute added.

He received the Parvasi Bharatiya Sammelan Award in 2021 and now it’s a Padma Shri for Ravi Prakash Singh.

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