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Saturday, January 01, 2011

In the spotlight: Making a difference in global war on hunger: Indian American Dr. Amit Roy

In the spotlight: Making a difference in global war on hunger: Indian American Dr. Amit Roy

By Kusum Singh

By Kusum Singh

Dr. Amit Roy has been fighting the global war on hunger for thirty years. His weapons are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, the three essential elements of the fertilizer. “Here in the United States, people do not understand the use of fertilizer since the cost of food is less than 10 percent of their income,” explains Dr. Roy, IFDC President and CEO. “But in developing nations, food can be 90 percent of their income. Fertilizer is their life blood.”

The IFDC (International Fertilizer Development Center) was established in 1974 on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Reservation in Muscle Shoals to "address global food security challenges through improved use of fertilizers and related technologies." Under Dr. Roy’s leadership, IFDC expanded its mission to address not only food security but also trade, equity, and the environment. Leading IFDC from fertilizer to agribusiness and economic development, he instituted research and development of new or modified fertilizer materials and processes using indigenous sources, especially phosphate rock. Dr. Roy encouraged the development of fertilizer industries in many developing countries and provided needed technical assistance.

The IFDC holds the same international status as the United Nations or World Bank. Other than the United Nations or our own government, it is the only body in the United States that can issue visas to visitors from around the world. Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the green revolution in Asia and the Nobel Peace prize winner was on its board for ten years.

IFDC is gearing up to face the next threat to global stability, as experts suggest that food production will have to double by 2050. In just 40 years, the global population will go from 6.8 billion to 9.2 billion, and more people eat protein as their diets improve. While it takes one pound of nitrogen to produce one pound of bread, that ratio is an increasing 8-1 for beef. If more people around the world are going to eat like Americans and other Western citizens, a corresponding seismic shift must first occur in food production.

IFDC recently launched its newest initiative global research initiative, the Virtual Fertilizer Research Center (VFRC). The goal is to create the next generation of fertilizers and production technologies as rapidly as possible by linking researchers together virtually through the Internet and other communication technologies. Thus the VFRC will allow scientists worldwide to collaborate on innovative fundamental and applied fertilizer research. New and improved fertilizers are critical elements in the effort to help feed the worldʼs growing population, provide sustainable global food security, and protect the environment. “These are global issues and they require global solutions.” says Dr. Roy.

Today, a staff of 135 resides in Muscle Shoals, 80 of whom are scientists. More than 700 other staff members work worldwide in 22 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.

Dr. Roy’s work has taken him to more than 100 countries. Roy is now leading IFDC in the development of the next generation of fertilizers, which will more effectively release nutrients when crops need them.

“We work very closely with the Indian Government and the private sector. Fertilizer is very important in India.  In India, as in many developing countries, fertilizer is an agriculture commodity but also a political commodity. Subsidy bail for fertilizers in India is enormous - $22 billion a year. Where the money for the subsidy comes from, that is a different story. Government policy is to secure food security. I keep telling the Indian Government that for India, to reduce the subsidy in fertilizer, India has to develop technology and product that will allow farmers to improve their production – produce more from less amount of input. All farmers have one common attribute – they know what will produce more – what will do more, even without formal education”, says Dr. Roy. IFDC works with many companies in India that produce fertilizers. The deputy director general of ICAR – the body that coordinates the research of all agriculture universities in India is on the Board of IFDC’s Virtual Fertilizer Research Center.

Dr. Roy earned a doctorate and a Master’s degree in chemical engineering from Georgia Tech. He received a Bachelor’s degree  in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India.


Has being an Indian been an asset in the leadership position you are in? Or is that even a factor?

In the US, people recognize [several] things – hard work, commitment, dedication, being able to deliver. Those attributes are fundamental to success. You will succeed with this attributes whether you are Indian or American.  Certainly my upbringing and discipline that I grew up with in India has helped in terms of sticking with a problem and seeing it through which I think is a very important.  Discipline and commitment have played very important roles in this organization.

What are the 3 most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?

The first most pivotal moment in my life was whether to pursue a career in cricket in India or to concentrate on my studies. I chose the latter in my final year of high school and followed that to IIT Kharaghpur. There I selected chemical engineering as my major over disciplines such as mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering. Finally, I decided to undertake research on fertilizers driven in part by a desire to help improve food production in developing countries. By then I had witnessed the devastations of crop failure on human lives in poor countries.

What do you attribute success to?

Hard work, dedication and a belief in my own abilities.

How do you define success?

Success can be defined as a valuation of your life’s work by either yourself or by others. I feel successful everyday knowing that my work goes to make the life of one person better. Objectively, I know that I’m successful when I see that one person take what he/she has learned from our staff and scientists and apply it to his/her everyday life.

What is your strongest inspiration?

The work, commitment, and dedication of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the green revolution in Asia offers me the strongest inspiration.

Best advice you have ever received?

Every unsuccessful endeavor should not be seen as a failure but rather an opportunity to learn; in other words, never to give up.

Worst advice you have ever received?

There’s nothing called bad advice. Every piece of advice has some merit; it just depends on how you apply it.  

Share with us your personal philosophy and values?

You can learn from individual, irrespective of their backgrounds. Learning is a lifelong endeavor.

Favorite quote?

“You can’t build peace on an empty stomach”


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Kusum Singh
Kusum Singh
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Md Mofizul Islam
IFDC, Dhaka
04/06/2011
05:23 am

Interview was short but covered whole area of fertilizer and its importance in food production. Dr. Amit’s contribution in global food production is a bright example for others. His leadership helped IFDC very much. We being his junior colleagues feel proud of him.

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