The World Food Prize Foundation announced today the selection of Dr. Swati Nayak as the 2023 Recipient of the Norman E. Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, Endowed by The Rockefeller Foundation.
Nayak is recognized for her innovative approach to engaging farmers in demand-driven rice seed systems, from testing and deployment to access and adoption of climate-resilient and nutritious rice varieties.
“This moment is a new beginning and a great opportunity to further strengthen my efforts, voice and impact as a field scientist,” said Nayak. “I look forward to working relentlessly, and ensuring that novel technologies, knowledge and resources reach the farmers faster, while ensuring equity and inclusivity. I am deeply grateful to the World Food Prize Foundation for this honor which echoes our joint pledge to build a resilient food system and a better world for all.”
From the beginning of her career, Nayak dedicated herself to closing the gap between scientific knowledge and its practical applications for farmers. Her grassroots experience paved the way for her to be appointed to lead the first ever dedicated initiative for women farmers approved by the Indian Cabinet. She crafted a comprehensive blueprint for the program, collaborating with 10 Indian states to establish a national program from scratch. Her work laid the foundation for the program to benefit four million women farmers to date.
“Dr. Swati Nayak is an outstanding young scientist who exhibits the traits underlying Norman Borlaug’s success,” said Mashal Husain, Chief Operating Officer, World Food Prize Foundation. “Together with her team, she created innovative, participatory solutions to the daunting challenge of feeding and nourishing a rapidly growing global population amid climate change, through the rapid scaling up of improved rice varieties, seed systems innovations and climate-smart technologies around the world.”
Nayak joined the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 2013, where she has provided pivotal leadership in numerous global flagship programs on rice and rice-based food systems. She is the Global Lead for Rice and Co-lead for Cereal Seed Systems under the key initiative SeedEqual of CGIAR, a worldwide research partnership focused on agricultural food systems.
Nayak has organized more than 10,000 extensive on-farm testings for more than 500 rice varieties, working with thousands of smallholder farmers for these meticulously run trials across diverse ecosystems in different countries across Asia and Africa. From this massive effort, she disseminated more than 20 promising climate-resilient and biofortified rice varieties. This process has empowered farmers, women and men, to maximize their yields, minimize their environmental footprint, and secure their economic future.
Nayak heavily involved women in evaluating and collecting critical feedback on new rice varieties. In the process, she trained numerous women groups in South Asia in varietal selection, seed production, marketing, and business development. She has contributed to the establishment of numerous seed producer businesses led by women and smallholder farmers.
In 2022, through Nayak’s efforts, women-led seed enterprises were able to produce, distribute, and sell approximately 8.5 metric tons of quality seeds. More than 40% of the participants in her programs, whether on-farm testing of varieties, demonstration plots, participatory rice variety evaluation, or seed production, have been women farmers. Nayak’s research results not only in productivity increases, but also increases in income, decision-making authority, and overall empowerment of women.
“In her path-breaking work on seed systems, Dr. Nayak has shown persistence, innovation and outstanding communication skills, emulating Dr. Borlaug’s example of understanding local cultures and working effectively in many challenging situations for the benefit of farmers throughout the rice growing world,” said Ronnie Coffman, Chair, Borlaug Field Award Jury. “ In the face of major gender barriers during the early part of her career, she persevered, and is very deserving of the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application.”
Established in 2011 with a generous endowment by The Rockefeller Foundation, the Borlaug Field Award is presented annually to a young scientist under the age of 40 who best emulates the characteristics demonstrated by Dr. Borlaug while developing miracle wheat in Mexico. This year the Foundation is honored to celebrate twelve years of partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, elevating the work of young scientists around the world.
“Norman Borlaug continues to inspire generations of scientists with his consummate efforts toward a hunger-free world,” said Nayak. “Scientists and supporters have extended his noble legacy to strive for food and nutrition security. I dedicate this award to thousands of agriculture extensionists, change agents, scaling and innovation experts, specifically to all the young women professionals who are directly working with the farmers.”
Nayak will formally receive the Borlaug Field Award during a ceremony at the 2023 Norman E. Borlaug International Dialogue October 24-26 in Des Moines, Iowa. Register HERE.