Dr. Khem Singh Gill

Pioneering Top Wheat Breeder of India

(September 1, 1930 – September 17, 2019 )

(By) Professor Dr. Surjit Singh Bhatti,(Retired), Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.

The period of a few decades before the seventies of the 20th century and that of the later decades, can be divided into two separate eras. These were different for the marginal people of the world in respect of the availability of adequate staple food at affordable prices. The specter of starvation loomed large by the end of the seventies with Era of Scarcity (Before Cereal Revolution) and the scenario changed to the Era of Abundance (After Cereal Revolution).

(Dr. Khem Singh Gill)

Two great Sikh Scientists worked tirelessly to bring about this Era of Cereal Abundance in Wheat and Rice. Together, they are given the credit for averting imminent famines in several parts of the world, including India. Both of them have been honored with the highest Civilian (Padma) awards by India and the highest Scientific awards by many other countries of the world.

Dr Khem Singh Gill had devoted his life to the discovery of many new breeds of wheat that can resist insects, pests and adverse climatic conditions and give much higher yields per acre, in shorter time durations. His work, however, was not confined to wheat only. He carried out research to improve the quality and yield of barley, sesame, millets, triticale, oilseeds, and other food products.  He is hailed as Father of the Wheat Revolution and his research is praised all over the world.

Dr Gurdev Singh Khush, the other Sikh Scientist, has developed hundreds of new and high yield varieties of rice. These are also disease-resistant, mature early, are accepted and grown by most countries of the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. He is, likewise, a highly celebrated scientist, the First Sikh to be elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), and honored by Emperor of Japan. He is known as  Father of the Rice Revolution and has been given the World Food Prize.

Incidentally, both had been associated with the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, India, and both went to the University of California in USA. For some time, the two worked together for their common objective.

Dr Khem Singh Gill was born on 1st of September 1930 in Moga district of Punjab. From Khalsa College, Amritsar he earned his BSc degree in 1949 and got MSc from Panjab University in 1951. In 1963, he went to USA for higher studies. In 1966, he obtained his PhD degree in Plant Genetics from the University of California.  After returning to India, he joined the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), as a Professor of Plant Breeding. Due to his excellent research in disease-resistant, high-yielding varieties of wheat and other food-crops, he quickly rose in eminence. In 1968, he became Head of the Department of Plant Breeding. Thereafter, he became  Dean of the College of Agriculture in the same University in 1979. From 1983 to 1987, he held the post of Director Research, after which he became Director (Extension Education).

Dr Khem Singh Gill guided dozens of PhD students and published about 500 research papers in world’s top agricultural journals. During the 1960’s he worked with the Nobel Laureate Dr Norman Borlaug, the American agronomist, whose initiatives led to the increase of food production world-wise. For his outstanding research, Dr Gill was recognized as the Pioneer of Green Revolution in India. People know him also as the “Wheat Breeder of India”. He became Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, in 1990. In 1992, Dr Gill’s contributions to Advancement of Agricultural Sciences in India was recognized by the Government of India with Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest awards for distinguished achievements.

Dr Khem Singh Gill developed many new sturdy and high-yielding varieties of wheat and many other cereal food crops and oilseeds. This dedicated work brought him recognition at the national and international levels. His focus area, however, remained the Wheat Improvement Program. Dr. Gill carried out excellent work in the development and identification of improved varieties of wheat, which revolutionized wheat production in Punjab and several other parts of India. He was one of the main contributors to the research work which made India a self-reliant country with an added capacity to export grains to other countries.

Professional Activities and Awards

Dr Khem Singh Gill was very active professionally, and received many awards. These activities include establishment of the Crop Improvement Society of India (1974) by him, and Founder-Fellowship of the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in 1976. In 1981, he was elected Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), honored with Team Research Award of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and its Golden Jubilee Award. In 1985, he got the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) prize and, later  the Silver Jubilee Award of Indian Society of Oilseeds Research (ISOR) in 1993. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recorded Appreciation of his work and honored him on three occasions.

Dr Gill was Senior Vice-President of the International Triticale Association during 1988-1994. Triticale is a fertile hybrid cereal, with high protein content, which is a cross between wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale).  He set up the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) and International Maize & Wheat Improvement Centre (IMWIC) and got the prestigious Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for the most outstanding research work in Agricultural sciences in India. He was the Evaluator of two major UNDP-India Projects on:

Sorghum and Millets Improvement”, at the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), during 1981, at its Indian Centre at Hyderabad.

Dr Khem Singh Gill’s work (with Dr Gurdev Singh Khush) on Rice

He was also associated with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI),  at   Los Banos, in Philippines, during 1983. He worked with Dr Gurdev Singh Khush, the other very distinguished Sikh scientist, considered Chief Architect of the path-breaking work in the development of new varieties of rice at IRRI. Dr Khem Singh Gill and Dr Gurdev Singh Khush were together responsible for averting the food crisis in Asia during the last century.

Work at Baru Sahib

Dr Khem Singh Gill guided the educational programs of more than 120 Akal Academies in Northern India where the highest quality of (CBSE – approved) education, with value-based Spiritual Orientation, is being imparted under the Kalgidhar Trust, with its Head Quarters at Baru Sahib (Himachal Pradesh). He was also Advisor (Teaching and research) at the Eternal University (for Girls) at Baru Sahib, and Akal University at Talwandi Sabo (Bathinda, in Punjab).

Dr Khem Singh Gill  expired on September 17,  2019 at Ludhiana, India.

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