Dr. Robert Chandler, Jr.
Dr. Robert F. Chandler, Jr., 1988 winner of the World Food Prize, was an individual whose work touched all corners of the globe, from Asia and the Far East to Africa and Latin America. He was recognized for his leadership in founding the International Rice Research Institute and spurring an international network of agricultural research centers.
By the late 1950s, the population of Asia was expanding rapidly and the outlook for feeding the increasing number of people was bleak. Many experts, predicting that the region would outgrow its food production capacities by 1975, warned of chronic, widespread famine.
Dr. Chandler was born in 1907 in Ohio, grew up in Maine, and earned a Ph.D. in 1934 from the University of Maryland.
Originally a professor of forest soils at Cornell University, Dr. Chandler was in 1946 named director of agricultural research at the University of New Hampshire and from 1950 to 1954 served as that institution’s president. During that time he also studied soils in Mexico, where from 1954 to 1958 he directed research for the Rockefeller Foundation. His experience in science and administration made him a natural choice to initiate the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) program in 1959, which he and his wife, Sunny, did with little more than a typewriter in a Manila hotel room.
After guiding IRRI through its first decade, Dr. Chandler became the founding director of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) in Taiwan in 1972.
Dr. Chandler retired from full-time work in 1975 but continued advising renowned organizations throughout the world. He passed away on March 23, 1999, at the age of 91.
The situation in Asia looked bleak when Dr. Chandler became the founding director of IRRI in Los Baños, the Philippines. From the outset, Dr. Chandler knew that the production of rice, the primary staple for more than four-fifths of Asia's population, would play a paramount role in curtailing hunger. To keep pace with the growing population, however, rice production had to increase by more than five million tons annually.
Dr. Chandler brought together a staff of administrators and attracted top scientists from around the globe, then worked to unify their focus on the agricultural needs of the developing world. Concentrating on collecting existing Asian rice breeds and genetically improving them, the group produced varieties specially developed to have double and triple the yield potential of traditional rice plants. As early as 1963, IRRI researcher and 1996 World Food Prize Laureate Henry Beachell had already identified the plants that would become the IR8 strain lauded as “miracle rice.” These and other varieties developed at IRRI brought a 66 percent increase in rice production in Asia, while the population rose 47 percent. Today, the new rice varieties are grown on 50 million hectares across the continent.
In reality, the rapid advances in rice production that Dr. Chandler and his eminent staff made were not a miracle, but the product of hard work, determination, and years of research. The success of Dr. Chandler's work with IRRI spurred the development of an international network of agricultural research centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Sixteen centers are currently located on nearly every continent, each focusing on particular crops, livestock, or problems in food production.
In 1966, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research honored Dr. Chandler’s contribution to IRRI’s achievements, stating, "His own personal qualities as a critical scientist and a dynamic leader have been primarily responsible for the emergence of the International Rice Research Institute as the finest rice research center in the world...His contributions therefore lie not only in the practical application of science for human welfare, but in the evolution of a pattern of research administration conducive to science becoming an instrument of social progress in the developing nations."
In addition to Dr. Chandler’s contributions to IRRI, he also accomplished much while leading the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center. Under his leadership, AVRDC developed vegetable varieties for the tropics, including a heat-tolerant tomato with a yield of 20 tons per hectare. For more than 30 years, AVRDC varieties have enriched the diets of millions of people, especially women and children suffering from a lack of micronutrients, and the center maintains Dr. Chandler’s founding mission in its outreach activities across Asia and Africa and in Central America.
The countries that most immediately and directly benefited from Dr. Chandler’s vision were quick to laud his efforts. He was honored with India’s Gold Medal Award in 1966, Pakistan’s Sitara-I-Imtiaz Award in 1968, Indonesia’s Star of Merit and the Philippines’ Golden Heart Award in 1972, and China’s Order of the Brilliant Star in 1975.
After retiring from full-time work in 1975, Dr. Chandler continued his mission through consultant assignments with the Near East Foundation, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank. He received the Presidential End Hunger Award in 1986, which cited his "continued, demonstrated vision, initiative and leadership in the effort to achieve a world without hunger."
In a scientific and administrative career that spanned seventy years, Dr. Chandler inspired scores of young and talented scientists to work for the betterment of human nutrition and improved rural income. Many of his protégés advanced to become leaders in agricultural research. Dr. Chandler was remembered by fellow World Food Prize Laureate Dr. M.S. Swaminathan as “a scientist of vision and conviction, warmth and wisdom, and of great inner strength. The impact of his leadership and dynamism was widely felt in Asia within a short period.” That impact continues to be felt globally by billions today.
Dr. Chandler wrote the book An Adventure in Applied Science: A History of the International Rice Research Institute chronicling the history (first 20 years) of the institute he founded.
Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC)
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
Near East Foundation
US Agency for International Development (USAID)