Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush

Gurdev Singh Khush (center)

Sikh scientists such as Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush are pride of all Khalsa. Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush with his dedication and hard worked developed more than 200 varieties of Rice. These modern rice varieties helped avert a major catastrophe in recent world history. What was the catastrophe averted? The advancement of an explosion in world population without an equal explosion in the world's food supply.

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 what was a major force behind this profound increase in the world's food supply? Dr. Gurdev S. Khush is a plant breeder and geneticist at International Rice Institute at 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 Khush and his breeding team.

Dr. Khush was born in a sikh family in Jalandhar district of Punjab, India. 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. Khush 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, Khush 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 PhD in genetics. Dr. Khush with his family At Davis, Khush was fortunate 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 India to meet and later marry Harwant Kaur Grewal. They had four children.

In 1967, Khush 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. Khush 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, Khush 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 MSc and PhD students, and laid the groundwork for rice breeding programs in many places.

During his distinguished career, Khush 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 Mr. Henry Beachell.


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