Interview with Ravi Singh

October 31, 2012

1. What kind of research do you specialize in?
My long-term research interest has been to enhance the genetic understanding of resistance to wheat rusts and to achieve durable resistance by developing high-yielding wheat germplasm that has adequate to near-immune levels of resistance based on diverse combinations of minor genes.

2. Why do you think it is important?
Wheat rusts are among the world’s most important diseases. A century of research and breeding effort has helped reduce the losses but new biotypes continue to emerge and cause significant losses. Use of minor gene combinations offers an unique opportunity to achieve long-term, or durable, resistance. This will protect wheat crops without the need of utilizing fungicides and thus enhance farmers’ income while protecting environment.

3. How did you get started in agriculture?
Although my grandparents were farmers and I enjoyed spending time in villages during vacations in my childhood days, my start in agriculture was accidental. When I was growing up in India most of my peers dreamt to become engineers, medical doctors, or civil servants. I was planning to become doctor and studied biology in school. To enter medical school, we had to go through competitive entrance tests. I missed the entrance test the first year as I was in bed for various months due to severe jaundice. So, I took the admission for agriculture, considering it to be relatively easy degree, to prepare for the medical entrance exam. However, when I realized that I was doing extremely well without putting much effort, I decided to stay with agriculture and give it my full effort. I started to set my own milestones during BS and MS programs and completed these degrees by establishing new records.

4. Your field has changed since you began your studies? What are some of the most important/exciting changes you’ve seen?
My PhD was in the area of genetics of rust resistance in wheat from the University of Sydney. This experience brought me to CIMMYT where I started as rust pathologist assigned to the bread wheat breeding program. Soon, I started to learn and contribute to wheat breeding while maintaining activities in wheat pathology and genetics. In other words, I was doing three jobs. This helped me integrate the three disciplines in a more effective manner. When biotechnology initiated at CIMMYT, I embraced it as a new tool and collaborated both with CIMMYT groups as well as outside partners to enhance my knowledge. Science is evolving continuously and, as breeders, we must be open to new science, and to using it where it can be applied more efficiently. Agriculture research and the CGIAR centers have had a roller-coaster ride during my career at CIMMYT. The need for good science, the need for solutions to enhance food production — especially considering climate change scenarios which project limited water availability and temperature stresses — will require serious efforts from scientists, policy makers, and farmers.

5. If you were a researcher just starting out, what would you pursue?
Any researcher starting must see what has worked and what can be done to make it better. Researchers can always contribute based on what they have learned or can learn. This is the way to move forward.

6. What are the most important/critical challenges facing food security/global hunger?
We have to recognize that science alone cannot solve all critical challenges facing agriculture. Implementation of policies to ensure efficient use of water, nutrients, and prices will be important to enhance productivity and profitability. I believe that sufficient food can be produced if there is a will and openness to adopt new technologies that are productive and sustainable.

7. What things/people inspire you to do your work?
Hard working people at all levels, who are ready to give what they have, inspires me a lot. At the end of the day the progress made in work is also inspiring to continue doing better and looking forward for the next day.