Odia scientist wins prestigious Norman Borlaug Field Award, 2023

Dr Swati Nayak will be the third Indian and first Odia to receive this prestigious award at USA

Bhubaneswar: A wave of immense pride has gripped Odisha after the World Food Prize Foundation (IOWA, USA) announced Odia scientist Dr Swati Nayak as the recipient of prestigious Norman Borlaug Field Award, 2023. The award is given to exceptional scientists under 40 years of age who work in the field of food and nutrition security, hunger eradication and exhibit the character and attributes of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Green Revolution’s Chief Architect Dr Norman Borlaug.

Announced on September 19 at New York Climate Week through special announcement and press release, the highly prestigious award and honour will be received by Dr Nayak  during the  the week of October 22nd – 28th at IOWA , USA , where various mega events happening on the eve of world food prize week and International Borlaug Dialogue. She will be the third Indian and first Odia to receive this prestigious award at USA and is recognized for her innovative approach to engaging smallholder farmers in demand-driven rice seed systems, from testing and deployment to equitable access and adoption of climate-resilient and nutritious rice varieties.

Working as a scientist with Manila based CGIAR- International Rice Research Institute as South Asia lead at present, Dr Nayak hails from Odisha and currently resides at Delhi along with her husband Priyadarsi Bal and daughter, Advika Nayak Bal.

Her parents Laxmidhar Nayak and Bijayalaxmi Naik reside in Bhubaneswar.  Striving to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and its practical applications for farmers, Dr Nayak started working as the only woman administrator at the Integrated Tribal Development Agency in the remote forest region of Andhra Pradesh, India after graduating in 2010 with her Masters from the Institute of Rural Management Anand. Her grassroots experience paved the way for her to be appointed to head the first-ever dedicated Indian government initiative for women farmers.

She was a central member of the team which crafted a comprehensive blueprint for the program, collaborating with more than 10 Indian states to establish a national program from scratch. Her work laid the foundation for the still flourishing program to benefit four million women farmers to date. Dr Nayak joined IRRI in 2013, where she has provided pivotal leadership in numerous global flagship programs on rice and rice-based food systems. She is the current lead for cereal seed systems under the key initiative SeedEqual of CGIAR, a worldwide research partnership focused on agricultural food systems.

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. In that effort, Nayak has organized more than 10,000 extensive on-farm trials for more than 500 rice varieties, working with thousands of smallholder farmers across diverse ecosystems in different countries across Asia and Africa.

She was central to the massive effort toward the successful dissemination and adoption of more than 20 promising climate-resilient and biofortified rice varieties. In 2021, through Nayak’s efforts, women-led seed enterprises were able to produce, distribute, and sell approximately 8.5 metric tons of quality seeds. Resilience to climate change is also a central part of Nayak’s advocacy for sustainable agriculture. Many climate-resilient rice varieties have been successfully deployed in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal through her diligent strategy, partnerships, and unique positioning models. According to projections, by 2022, 1 million hectares would be planted in India with flood-, drought-, and salt-tolerant rice varieties.

In one case, Nayak and her team formulated a strategy for introducing the drought-tolerant rice variety Shahabhagi Dhan in Odisha, India. The variety soon became an integral element of every farm family’s diet and crop rotation. Years later, Sahabhagi Dhan remains one of the most in-demand products in Odisha and the rest of India. Nayak is fondly referred to by the local communities with whom she has worked as “Bihana Didi,” meaning “Seed Lady.”

Dr Nayak received a Ph.D. in Competitive Intelligence & Strategic Management for Agricultural Extension Management Strategy at Amity University (2017-2022), a Master in Rural Management at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (2008-2010) and a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at Acharya NG Ranga Agriculture University (2003-2007).

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