"Standing on the shoulders of giants"

Los Banos, Philippines – It’s a long way from the small Texas town of Alvin to the lush green rice fields of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Despite this, the two places have played interesting roles in one of the most remarkable success stories in the history of efforts to ease human hunger and suffering.

This largely unknown link was highlighted earlier this month by the death of Henry “Hank” Beachell, one of the plant breeding pioneers behind the “miracle rice” IR8, which launched the Green Revolution in Asia 40 years ago. Dr. Beachell passed away at his home in Alvin, Texas, on 13 December 2006.

Less than 3 months previously, Dr. Beachell had celebrated his 100th birthday on 21 September. Friends and family gathered in Alvin to celebrate the event and reminisce about his remarkable life and the huge impact it had on millions of rice farmers and consumers across Asia.

Dr. Beachell played a leading role in the development of IR8 at the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the 1960s. The short, sturdy cultivar was the first high-yielding modern rice variety. At a time of rapidly increasing populations in Asia, IR8—which resisted lodging (falling over) and allowed farmers to harvest more than one crop per year—helped avert widespread famine.

Born and raised on a wheat farm in western Nebraska, Dr. Beachell originally planned to work on wheat. Following university, though, the only position he could find, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), dealt with rice. It was a twist of fate that would prove fortunate for rice farmers and consumers across the world.

After 32 years at the USDA, Dr. Beachell came to IRRI, where he started work on IR8. In 1996, he and former IRRI principal plant breeder Gurdev Khush received the World Food Prize, known informally as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”

“Hank’s achievements in rice research–especially his role in the development of IR8–were extraordinary and absolutely deserving of the international acclaim and recognition that they received,” the director general of IRRI, Robert S. Zeigler said. “If we have achieved anything at IRRI since Hank and his colleagues retired from IRRI in the 1970s, it is very much in the context of Isaac Newton’s famous quote: If we have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Perhaps, one of the most famous stories of the success of IR8 comes from Tamil Nadu in southern India. After a bumper rice crop in his first season growing IR8, a local farmer K.N. Ganesan was so impressed that he named his second son in honor of the variety, telling researchers later that it provided the rice he needed to feed his young family. Now in his 40s, Mr. IR8 continues to farm rice in Tamil Nadu–living proof of the impact and achievements of a rice breeder from Texas.

For photos of Dr. Beachell, please click here:

http://www.irri.org/Download/beachell/

For a story on the development of IR8, please click here:

http://www.irri.org/publications/today/pdfs/5-4/34-38.pdf

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The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the world’s leading rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines and with offices in 10 other Asian countries, it is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of 15 centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies. Please visit the CGIAR website (www.cgiar.org) for more information.

For information, please contact:
Duncan Macintosh, IRRI, DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines; tel +63-2-580-5600; fax: +63-2-580-5699; email [email protected] .
Web sites:
IRRI Home (www.irri.org),
IRRI Library (http://ricelib.irri.org),
Rice Knowledge Bank (www.knowledgebank.irri.org).

Published: 18 Dec 2006

Contact details:

IRRI DAPO 7777 Metro Manila, Philippines

+63-2-580-5600
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http://www.irri.org International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
http://www.irri.org/Download/beachell/ Photos of Dr. Beachell
http://www.irri.org/publications/today/pdfs/5-4/34-38.pdf Story on the development of IR8
http://ricelib.irri.org IRRI Library
http://www.knowledgebank.irri.org Rice Knowledge Bank