Monsanto Company today announced a $10 million grant to establish Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, which will help identify and support young scientists interested in improving research and production in rice and wheat, two of the world's most important staple crops, through plant breeding techniques.
Monsanto is funding the program, which will be administered by Texas AgriLife Research, an agency of the [ Texas A&M University System, for the next five years. The program honors the accomplishments of Dr. Henry Beachell and Dr. Norman Borlaug, who pioneered plant breeding and research in rice and wheat, respectively.
Applications will be reviewed by an independent panel of global judges chaired by Program Director Dr. Ed Runge, who is also a professor and Billie B. Turner Chair in Production Agronomy (Emeritus) within the Soil and Crop Sciences Department, Texas A&m University at College Station.
"We are honored to administer this program and work with students around the world to bring new ideas and research techniques to rice and wheat breeding," Runge said. "Research in these two staple crops has fallen behind others, and it is my hope this program will help jumpstart additional investment in two of the world's most important grains. We encourage any eligible rice or wheat breeders around the world to apply for the award."
Announcement of the first year's winners is planned to correspond with the World Food Prize held in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 15, 2009. The announcement of the grant from Monsanto today marks the celebration of Dr. Borlaug's 95th birthday.
Plant breeding is both an art and science practiced for thousands of years in agriculture. A breeder works with a specific plant species to help encourage desired characteristics, like larger grain size, heartier stalks, or greater tolerance to environmental stress, among others, to improve the next generation of plants.
Rice and wheat are considered by many to be the most important staple crops in developing countries, providing necessary calories to feed billions of people every day. Many of the world's poorest people rely on the two grains as a key source of food. In 2008 farmers produced nearly 440 million metric tons of rice and more than 680 million metric tons of wheat. Yet, yields of rice and wheat have grown on a compound annual growth rate of approximately 0.8 percent over the past decade while the population has grown on a compound annual growth rate of approximately 1.25 percent during the same time period. Accelerating yield growth will help to reduce hunger by helping to produce more food on the same number of acres.
"As the world celebrates the birthday of Dr. Borlaug, Monsanto is pleased to mark the accomplishments of two great men in agriculture by establishing this scholars program," said Dr. Ted Crosbie, Vice President, Global Plant Breeding, Monsanto Company. "Drs. Beachell and Borlaug devoted their lives to ensuring farmers had access to the best rice and wheat varieties and to the advancement of science through education. This award seeks to continue their work to enable future generations of farmers to feed our growing population."