China, world lost one greatest agricultural scientists -- World Food Prize president emeritus
With the passing of Chinese scientist Yuan Longping, "China and the world have lost one of the greatest agricultural scientists on our planet, and I have lost a great friend," Kenneth Quinn, president emeritus of the World Food Prize Foundation, said.
Quinn, also vice chairman of the Yuan Longping International Rice Development Forum, shared his memory of the "father of hybrid rice" in a written interview with Xinhua on Sunday.
Yuan "greatly reduced hunger and provided farmers with surplus income" through his discovery of hybrid rice and the development of seeds that could triple and quadruple production during the early part of China's economic and agricultural transformation in the 1970s and 1980s, Quinn said.
His creation and leadership over decades of a major research institution in China, the Hunan Hybrid Rice Research Center in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province, have allowed several generations of Chinese and foreign scientists to develop enhanced expertise in rice production, Quinn said.
"This achievement enabled his breakthrough research in hybrid rice to be spread far beyond China's borders to the benefit of millions," he added.
Quinn first met Yuan in October 2004, when Yuan traveled to Des Moines in the U.S. state of Iowa to receive the World Food Prize.
"As we walked out of the (airport) terminal and were about half way to our limousine, I received a call and stepped aside to speak." When Quinn turned back a minute or two later, he lost Yuan.
"I had never before 'lost' a laureate," he said. After a desperate search, "I found Professor Yuan surrounded by a group of smiling Chinese agricultural scientists and graduate students from Iowa State University who so admired him that they wanted to take him off for a meal and conversation."
During Yuan's stay at Des Moines, this happened time and again. "I had several of our interns follow behind him to prevent him being 'kidnapped,'" Quinn said.
As president of the World Food Prize Foundation then, Quinn presided over the ceremony when Norman Borlaug, founder of the foundation and a famous U.S. agronomist, presented the laureate sculpture to Yuan.
In Quinn's eyes, Yuan was incredibly humble, never seeking fame or adulation, and focused only on hard work and results that could help eradicate poverty and lift people out of hunger. "Yuan always maintained a 'down to earth' attitude."
Quinn also admired Yuan as a teacher. "He always had time to answer questions and especially to speak with young scientists and students. The American high school students we sent to his research center each year always returned filled with knowledge and a deep desire to learn more."
Quinn still remembers when he traveled to Sanya, China's Hainan Province, in 2016 to attend the first International Forum on Rice, he went to the area where Yuan made his initial breakthrough discovery regarding hybrid rice in the early 1970s.
"It was deeply meaningful to stand at the very place where such an amazing breakthrough in food production had occurred," he said.
Quinn said the most remarkable aspect of Yuan's life that he observed "was that everyone in China knew who he was and what he had done," stressing every person from servers in restaurants in Shenzhen, hotel staff in Shijiazhuang to refreshment purveyors on high-speed trains.
"It is not for me to say, but it occurs to me that Yuan Longping may be the most important agricultural scientist in the history of China," Quinn said. "It was my great privilege to know him and become his friend."
Learning of Yuan's passing away on Saturday, Quinn issued an immediate statement to send his deepest sympathy to Yuan's family and colleagues in China, as well as his admirers in China and across the world.