My association with ISWS- A journey sweet and sour
I am happy to write this note on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee year of ISWS. At the outset, I compliment the present Executive Council of the Society for their initiative in observing this milestone by organizing an International Conference. Special appreciations to the EC for selecting the Directorate of Weed Research, Jabalpur as the venue. It was the wish of every weed scientist in India that ICAR nodal centre at Jabalpur should be the natural home for ISWS.
Let me start with my interest in weed science, which later developed into a deep passion. This I thought is relevant here as it is directly related to my involvement in ISWS, which main mandate is to promote weed science. Further, I feel this narration may inspire youngsters to pursue weed science as a career. My interest in weed science dates back to my MSc days at Agricultural College, Dharwad. During our walks in the sprawling campus, it had been a practice among a few of us to go on identifying the plants grown along the roadside. This probably brought me subconsciously close to weeds. Secondly, it was a common thing then (true now also) to choose a guide who would be more liberal and the one who doesn't put unnecessary hurdles in doing the research work. Keeping this in mind, I chose to work with Dr. MM Hosmani, who was respected by the scientific community as a down-to-earth Agronomist and a Weed Scientist. A gem of a person as he was, gave me total freedom in selecting the research topic and in conducting the research.
Having decided to work on Striga, I made great efforts in collecting the literature pertaining to the weed, which was very sparse in our library (remember, there was no internet!). I was fascinated by the book Weed Control in the Tropics by L. Kasasian (Leonard Hill 1971, 307 p). In the book, Dr. Kasasian was shown as the Tropical Weed Specialist at Weed Research Organization (WRO), Oxford, UK. Having realized that Striga was a priority research area at WRO, I wrote a letter to Kasasian requesting for literature on Striga. One fine day, I received a letter, not from Kasasian, but from Chris Parker, who said in his letter that he had replaced Kasasian and he generously offered to help me. Little did I realize at that time that it was going to be the beginning of a very lasting and continued friendship with Chris and his family. My 3-year stint at WRO for my PhD later cemented the bonding further. For the unaccustomed, Chris is an authority on parasitic weeds and he continues to edit Haustorium- a newsletter published by the International Parasitic Plant Society (http://www.parasiticplants.org/ipps_newsletter.asp). My hunger for more literature had a chance encounter with a foreign agency (I don't remember the name, I am afraid) who would supply any research article free of cost. In a pre-internet era, this was like hitting a gold mine! This helped me in understanding the problem in its totality and plan and execute experiments accordingly.
My exposure to ISWS was in late 1970s, after I joined IARI, New Delhi. It was my good fortune that I was asked to work with legendary Prof. VS Mani, who was synonymous with weed science in India at that time. He was instrumental in grooming a generation of weed scientists including S Sankaran and MM Hosmani. My early memories of ISWS was that of attending the Biennial Conference held at Hyderabad and next at Parbhani. It was a great feeling meeting and listening to giants such as Drs. K Krishnamurthy, VM Bhan, S Sankaran, SK Mukhopadhyaya, HS Gill, Bibhas Ray, SVR Shetty and many others. I served as the councillor for Delhi and helped enrolling many new members including a few from outside Agronomy.
Another turning point in my career was a chance meeting with Prof. John D Fryer, then Director, WRO, Oxford. It was late 1970s, with widespread adoption of Mexican dwarf wheat, wild oats and Phalaris minor were beginning to raise their ugly head. The Government of India had invited Prof. Fryer to assess the problem and suggest remedial measures. Dr. MV Rao Coordinator, AICRP on Wheat (who later became Special DG, ICAR and VC, APAU) and Prof. VS Mani deputed me to accompany Prof. Fryer on his field visits. This gave me an unexpected but wonderful experience of knowing the great man and learning from him the nuances of weed science. For the novice, Prof. Fryer is the author of several books including Weed Control Handbook. Vol. 1&2 (Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford 1970).
The real exposure to international weed science community came with my selection for Commonwealth Scholarship and placement at WRO, Oxford/University of Reading, Reading, UK for my PhD. Sadly, closed down now, WRO was considered as a Mecca for weed scientists. It provided me the rare opportunity to work in such an internationally renowned research centre and with internationally acclaimed weed scientists. The experience was indeed a real dream come true for me and I couldn't have asked for more. Many top weed scientists from far and wide would come on sabbatical to work here. Keith Moody, the famous weed scientist from IRRI, Philippines was there for a year during my stay at WRO. It was very enriching interacting with him. I seized the opportunity with both hands and did well to get the maximum out of my placement at WRO. I owe a lot to John Caseley and Donald Drennan- my supervisors and many others at WRO for shaping me as a hardcore weed scientist.
Back to Society, I was involved in and participated in most of the Biennial Conferences of the Society. I took active part in the activities of the Society, served in the Editorial team of Indian Journal of Weed Science for a number of years before serving as its Chief Editor from 1998-01. Responsible for starting ISWS newsletter Weed News and continued as its Founder-Editor from 1997 to 2000. The experience of being the Founder-Editor (1986-96) of Agronomy News published by the Indian Society of Agronomy. In 2001, I brought out the Directory of Weed Scientists of India (ISWS, 42p), which was then found very useful by all members.
During 2007-2010, the Society faced unprecedented internal crisis due to some unfortunate developments. However, with the unstinted efforts of Dr. TV Muniyappa and wisdom of others, the society was put back on rails and he managed the affairs of the Society as its President (2011-12) quite admirably. Many like-minded members helped in building the Society to its original glory. Special mention be made of Dr. TVR Prasad and Dr. KN Kalyanmurthy for their efforts in re-registering the Society.
My best service to the Society came during 2013-16. As president of the Society with active cooperation and support from the members of the Executive Council, brought out many reforms in the functioning of the Society and in improving the quality of the IJWS. Special gratitude to Dr. AR Sharma, who as Secretary worked tirelessly and was instrumental in developing strict guidelines for the various awards instituted by the Society. Measures such as keeping EC members out of the race for awards, total transparency in the selection and due credit for merit ensured free and fair selection of awardees. These enhanced the credibility of the Society manifold. I took personal interest in redesigning the Society 's website. It was made user-friendly, dynamic and rich in content. Online submission of papers, membership enrolment, full access to journal and newsletters, conference proceedings etc have been enabled. I would like to express my appreciation and thanks to Gyanendra Pratap Singh at the Society's office for his labour of love in designing, managing and updating the website. A special feature, wherein the members could update their profile on their own is available in the website, which many members have not taken advantage of. I sincerely hope they would do so in the near future.
As an icing on the cake, our concerted efforts improved the quality of Society's Journal and recorded higher rating by NAAS. Lot of credit should go to ever-acive Dr. Sushilkumar, the Chief Editor and his team of Editors for their efforts. With the overall enhanced credibility, the Society attracted funding from individuals. Notable being the donations made by Dr. TV Muniyappa and Dr. AN Rao for instituting ISWS awards. Dr. Megh Singh, University of Florida, USA contributed a generous amount as seed money to a Corpus, which was further enhanced by modest contributions made by several members. The interest earned from this Corpus is currently being used to support young scientists to participate in National and International conferences.
In a first of its kind, ISWS joined hands with Indian Society of Agronomy in bringing out a reference book entitled Weed Science and Management (Eds. Yaduraju NT, Sharma AR and Das TK 402p) for the benefit of students and teacher in weed science.
Another high point in my career is, as President of APWSS, I was instrumental in organizing the 25th Asian-Pacific Weed Science Society Conference at Hyderabad from 13-16 October, 2015. The preparations had started two years earlier with ISWS making a successful bid to organize the event at 24th APWSS Conference held at Bandung, Indonesia in 2013. It was indeed a proud moment for all weed scientists of the country that we got the opportunity to host the 25th APWSS Conference after a long gap of 34 years. It was a happy coincidence that we had the largest contingent from India, present at Bandung, to celebrate the occasion. We worked very hard over the next two years and were able to host one of the most memorable conferences ever in the history of APWSS. The Conference attracted the largest number of delegates with 690 registered participants, including 107 from overseas and 46 from industry. There were 11 plenary lectures, 16 lead presentations and 106 oral presentations, besides 627 poster presentations. It was probably for the first time, five satellite symposia on emerging topics were concurrently organized. They were on: (1) Weed management in Conservation Agriculture; (2) The Weedy Rice Challenge in Asia Issues and Options for Management; (3) Herbicide Resistance: Current Status and Future Challenges globally; (4) Biological Control – Progress and Future prospects in Asia-Pacific region; and (5) Utilization of Weeds as Bio-resources. These were well organized by the symposia coordinators and were well attended and well received by the scientific community. Co-edited the 25th APWSS Conference Proceedings, Volume 2, which contained all the plenary and lead papers. All these publications are made available at ISWS website.
As it was a Silver Jubilee Conference, we brought out a special publication Weed Science in the Asian-Pacific Region. I am happy that VS Rao - one of the most respected weed scientists and author of many books on Weed Science - agreed to head the Editorial Team, which also included myself, Nimal Chandrasena, Gul Hassan and AR Sharma. The publication is unique and one of its kind with information on the status of Weed Science in 19 countries of the Asian-Pacific region contributed by 47 weed scientists from 19 Countries. Such a mega event could not have been organized without the support, guidance and help from a host of people. I am grateful to all the members of the Executive Council, plenary speakers, chairpersons of various committees, friends from the industry for their generous donation. Dr. AR Sharma deserves special mention for being with me all the time and working tirelessly. Overall, organizing the 25th APWSS Conference gave me great personal satisfaction as it provided greater visibility and credibility to ISWS. Further, with rigorous efforts in fund-raising and judicious spending, we could save a whopping ` 60 lakhs, thus placing the Society on a strong financial position.
In 2016, we very successfully conducted the Society elections totally online. This is a land mark achievement as the process was transparent, no bogus voting, took less time and saved lot of money. We are probably the first one among the professional Societies in agriculture in the country to carry out e-elections and I am sure other Societies may follow this initiative. I personally thank Dr. Devraj Arya (earlier with Monsanto) for his efforts in making this happen. We handed over the reins of the Society to the new team in March 2017– coinciding with the Biennial Conference at Udaipur. It was again for the first time that the new team was introduced at the GB meeting and asked them to take over. The new team thanked us (the old regime) for our services to the Society. I wish, the gesture and the bonhomie will be followed in the future too.
We concluded our role by organizing the Biennial Conference at MPUAT, Udaipur from 1-3 March 2017 on the theme Role of weed science in doubling the farmers income by 2022. The theme was deliberately chosen following the clarion call given by our Prime Minister to double the farmers' income by 2022. Contributions from different sectors and disciplines will be needed to realize the national objective. I am happy the that ISWS was the first one to respond and contribute to this national goal- the idea the other Societies are trying to emulate. Dr. Mruthyunjaya, former National Director ICAR-NAIP gave the keynote address. Not often we have a non-weed scientist as a keynote speaker.
In the end, I must say that it has been a very satisfying association with ISWS. I am happy that I contributed in my own little way to the discipline and to the Society. In recognition, I am delighted that the Society admitted me to the Fellowship (2001) and honoured me with the Gold Medal (2004). I will cherish the good memories of my association with the ISWS for ever. I will be around and will be pleased to extend whatever help and guidance required by anyone.