Saturday, 7 March 2015

Dr. R. Pankaja Reddy- An Inspiring Woman Agricultural Scientist

Dr KBRS Visarada and HS Gawali
Indian Institute of Millets Research,
Hyderabad-500030, India

On the occasion of International women’s day 2015, it is a great honor to recall the services of Dr Pankaja Reddy R. towards Indian dry-land agriculture system.

Dr. R. Pankaja Reddy
Dr Reddy was born to Shri R Jagannath Reddy and Smt Tara in a small village of Telangana State on 13 May 1935. She was a brilliant student from the beginning and studied with the support of scholarships. She was interested in Botany from childhood and did graduation in Botany in 1952 from the then Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University, Hyderabad and later switched over to agriculture as a plant breeder. She did her M Sc (Agricutlure) at Indian Agriculture Research Institute, New Delhi and received prestigious Rockefeller fellowship during the course. She was the first women in India to bag the Rockefeller fellowship. She considers her MSc thesis “Heterosis in Sorghum” as one of the best contributions. After completion of Ph.D. she moved to horticulture for a postdoctoral fellowship at Ohio, where she worked on ornamental plants. She was very keen in returning to India and serve Indian agriculture. 

Later at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), she worked on the wheat lines provided to India by Dr Norman Borlaug. She screened these segregating lines in the field at IARI. She fondly recalls how Dr Borlaug could recognize his wheat material from a distance in wheat fields and how fast he used to walk in the field. She was fortunate to work under Dr MS Swaminathan.

Subsequently she moved as a Fulbright scholar to Kansas State University, USA to pursue doctoral degree. She worked on monosomic analysis in wheat under the supervision of Dr H.B. Hiney. Her interest in botany and training in agriculture contributed to her success to work on these precious genetic stocks of wheat. She recalls an incident during her course at Kansas where she was asked to deliver a seminar on “Origin of life” and the course coordinator remarked that being a women she will give seminar on “Fashion of your country”. She prepared well for the seminar and made a remarkable presentation and concluded with a note that the fashion of my country India is to “respect women”. The coordinator was full of appreciation for the rest of the course.

To meet her living she worked part time in the library in the USA and could read many literature books there. She donated her last few months salary to the library because she felt grateful to the library. She served as the President of Indian Association and was responsible for mobilizing funds for several charitable activities.

She recalls a Chinese professor of Statistics, Dr G. Lu, who had a unique way of conducting an examination. Students are given any length of time for answering the questions and the professor used to visit them in between. He used to write formulae and give one or two word hints so that the student can continue. This made students to think and work more. Later he used to analyze all the answer sheets and discuss. 

Dr Reddy expressed that she was an admirer of Dr NGP Rao, father of Indian Sorghum, for his knowledge of plant breeding skills from her college days. After returning to India she had an opportunity to work under Dr NGP Rao for a longtime. She served as a scientist under Indian Council of Agriclutural Research during 1975-95. During these years her research efforts have lead to development of six high yielding varieties of pigeon pea with short, medium and long duration, suitable for different irrigation regimes. She developed six varieties of groundnut (Spanish types) with high yields. She initiated forage breeding program at Indian Institute of Millets Research (the then National Research Centre for Sorghum) Hyderabad and identified five promising varieties in fodder sorghum. She is known for her hard work and discipline. Directed towards catering to the national and regional varietal needs, Dr Pankaja Reddy’s breeding research has led to the evolution of many high yielding varieties. She has published 25 research papers in various national and international journals.

She acknowledges her father Shri R. Jagannath Reddy, who inspired her to become a scientist and taught her to speak out when her conscious says anything about injustice. She followed these qualities throughout. She recalls an incident when she was four years old, there was lightening and her grandfather asked her to immediately close her ears as it would thunder. Then her father taught her that how her grandfather sensed thunder in advance as light travels faster than sound.

During her service she used to visit the agriculture field everyday and record the observations. Plant breeding is an art as well as science. She owed her skill of identification of plant material among many to Dr Borlaug. She feels that we have to understand the crop and its needs to harvest high. An example she narrated was excess of irrigation hampers groundnut germination and it reduces pod formation in Pigeon pea. She was very systematic and is an inspiration not only to women scientists but also to men. A simple living and high thinking woman, she hailed from a small village from an agricultural family, worked with world class scientists, served Indian dry-land agriculture for several decades. 

After retirement she preferred her native place rather than Hyderabad urban life with an interest to spend retired life close to farming. She opines that Agricultural courses in India should have six months training in small villages with farmers so that they can learn the traditional methods and combine them with modern technology. She expressed that for effective transfer of technology and benefit of agriculture all the experts and officials should visit the farmers and agricultural fields during 6:00- 11:00 AM and 4:00-6:00PM, the best time that suits farmers’ working hours. Presently, she is living in a small village of Telangana State spending time with farming community.

1 comment:

Your Comments.