University of Arizona
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Rick Ward has dedicated his career to reducing poverty and food insecurity through combined research, outreach, and education that contribute to sustainable increases in economic growth and jobs through improved agricultural productivity. All three of Ward’s degrees (from Colorado State and Kansas State) are in Agronomy. Ward is currently a professor at the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Agricultural Center where he holds a Bud Antle Endowed Chair for Excellence in Plant Sciences.
In 2006, Ward’s commitment to global impact led him to move to Mexico to work with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, leaving behind his tenured position at Michigan State University. Borlaug, in what became his last crusade, was raising the alarm on the threat posed to world wheat by the disease known as ‘stem rust Ug99’. Together with Borlaug and other colleagues, Ward led efforts to create the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded program known as the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project. The DRRW, launched in 2008 and still in operation, spends approximately $9M per year through 15 institutions in 13 countries, and has a mandate to apply best science and development practices to more rapidly replace the world’s Ug99-susceptible seed stocks with resistant varieties, and to upscale monitoring for new threats. Ward’s work enabled breeders, geneticists, pathologists, and policy makers in over 30 countries to work more effectively and more collaboratively.
For five years prior to 2015, Ward served CIMMYT as a Principal Scientist posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In partnership with both global and national partners, Ward designed and led the initial phases of the Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP) for Pakistan, a $7M per year program funded by USAID and led by CIMMYT. AIP, launched in 2013, seeks to increase economic growth in the livestock, horticulture, and cereal (seed and agronomy) sectors of Pakistan, and he also designed and led led the CIMMYT component of the USDA funded Wheat Productivity Program in Pakistan . During his last year with CIMMYT, Ward led efforts to design global precision wheat Phenotyping platform with sites in over 10 countries.
For most of Ward’s career, he was a ‘front-line’ breeder, where success is measured in the number, market penetration, and superiority of new varieties. In Michigan, where Ward was a tenured professor and the State’s wheat breeder (’89-‘06), he released 15 varieties. Ward also ran a respected variety trialing system that gave farmers and seed companies decision support. Ward’s work helped Michigan farmers increase average state wheat yields by 38% between 1993 and 2006. As a founder and director of the US Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative , Ward mobilized and coordinated resources ($5M per year, 1997-present) that enabled scientists in over 15 states to develop head scab resistant varieties. While leading a CIMMYT team of maize improvement specialists in Zimbabwe in the 1980s (’85-’88), Ward and colleagues in Malawi developed hybrids that swept the maize-dense country in an episode that contributed to what is called the “African Green Revolution”. Before that, Ward worked as a post-doc in CIMMYT’s maize program, and then as a corn breeder for Mexico and Central America for Pioneer Overseas Corp.
Google Scholar lists 91 items authored by Ward, and other scientists have cited Ward’s scholarly works over 1300 times since 2009. Ward, who traveled with the still vigorous Dr. Borlaug when he was 92 years of age, looks forward to continuing his journey of learning, practicing, and enabling agricultural research for development.
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