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The accidental scientist who changed Bangladesh

  • Published at 06:07 pm October 21st, 2014
The accidental scientist who changed Bangladesh

Dr Munshi Siddique Ahmad is a perfect example of the spirit of the 13th century poem “Wings to Fly.” His deep love of knowledge and natural creativity helped establish him as a hugely successful “accidental” agriculture scientist. He was instrumental in developing the BRRI Shail (BR4), for which there was a dramatic rise in our rice production, raising it to 20 million tonnes in 1975 from a paltry 8 million tonnes in 1965.

In his 37 years of government service, he spent over 30 years in the research of rice. Dr Munshi, a pioneer and an organiser, made invaluable and largely unparalleled contributions to the planning and setting up of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, developing it into a centre of excellence. Through his research, he succeeded in raising the height of dwarf HYV (high-yielding varieties) rice plants to 125cm and making them significantly more photosensitive. This development was considered as unusual and a breakthrough by the rice scientists of that period.

From 1957 to 1968, he was involved in the research of rice, wheat, sugarcane, maize, and oilseed throughout various institutions. During his long tenure as the head of the breeding division at BRRI, he was instrumental in developing more than 30 new varieties of HYV rice by drawing up elaborate plans and carefully implementing them. BR3, BR4, BR10, and BR11 were some of the better known of these new HYV rice.

Under his leadership, the breeding division of BRRI received the President’s Award in 1977 and the FAO Bronze Plaque in 1980. Earlier in 1969, Dr Munshi was also awarded the “Tamgha-e-Pakistan,” which he renounced in March 1971, during the non-cooperation movement. In recognition of his glorious contribution to science and technology, Dr Munshi was conferred the highest state honour, the “Independence Day Award” in 1997.

In addition, he had also received many other national and international awards. Among them, the Bangabandhu Award in 1974, the Begum Jebunsessa and Kazi Mahbubullah Trust Award in 1986, and the title of “Scientist Emeritus” in 1987. More than 20 of his scientific articles were printed by prestigious publications both home and abroad. Moreover, he was also responsible for submitting at least 30 detailed and analytical reports to the Seed Certification Agency for obtaining their approval for all the new varieties of HYV rice developed under his direct supervision.

At the beginning, I said that Dr Munshi was an accidental agriculture scientist, as he wanted to study medicine, but instead of that, fate had dragged him to Agriculture College. He passed ISc in the second division from Rajendra College in Faridpur in 1946. He came to Dhaka in the same year, but found that he was late for admission in any of the institutions except Agriculture College under Dhaka University.

When he approached the college, he was told that he was not eligible for studying agriculture science as he had not studied botany in his ISc. Demoralised, Dr Munshi found a ray of hope when the principal of the college, Dr Hedauyetullah, agreed to enroll him conditionally. His enrolment was on condition that he had to learn botany for three months and pass a special test. The accidental scientist got through this test successfully and his enrolment as a BAg student was confirmed.

He passed from the college in 1949, and then passed and completed his MAg from Dhaka University in crop botany in 1956. Subsequently, he obtained his PhD degree in genetics and plant breeding from Texas A&M University in the United States in 1968.

Pious, modest, benevolent, humourous, friendly, and a very warm-hearted person, Dr Munshi, after several years of illness, passed away October 19, 2011.