MUSCLE SHOALS — Nobody can see into the future, but as a young man in India, Amit Roy found the spark that would ultimately lead him on a path to help provide his country and the rest of the world with the knowledge and the means to increase yield and quality of food production.
It was 1965, and Roy was beginning his studies in chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. His studies ultimately led him to the United States.
But it was what he saw in India that provided the impetus for focusing his studies on helping provide more food for the world. India was in the midst of a severe two-year drought, and farmers left their fields to find work in the cities. Roy said he saw the starving people in the street and decided what he wanted to focus his life’s work on.
“I always had the passion,” Roy said. “That was the trigger of my interest and my engagement in agriculture.”
Roy came to work at IFDC in 1978, a mere three years after it was created. He’s been president and CEO of the organization for the past 23 years.
He recently announced he will retire at the end of the year.
J. Scott Angle, an internationally known soil scientist and dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia, has been selected by the IFDC board of directors to succeed Roy as president and CEO. He is expected to take the helm Oct. 1.
“I’ve been in this position for 23 years as president and CEO,” Roy said. “I believe, and the board of directors believe, that there is now time for new thinking and a new leadership. I would like to thank our staff, past and present, for their commitment to a food-secure world. Under Scott’s leadership, I am confident that IFDC will expand its efforts to strengthen global agriculture.”
Reflecting on his career at IFDC, Roy said there are several accomplishments he is proud of.
Soon after he arrived at IFDC, Roy said the organization began to work in Albania, where it used fertilizer to help the country’s economy.
“That, to me, was a very important transition for IFDC,” Roy said. “We got the private sector involved and helped develop the market. (Tuesday) I heard that the producers in Greece cannot compete in the European markets because the Albanians are more efficient and are selling the same produce at cheaper prices in the European markets, and the Greeks are unable to compete.”
At the time, he said, Albania was just emerging from years of Communist domination.
“It went from total isolation to total open market in a matter of less than a year,” Roy said. “That transformation was dramatic.”
The second accomplishment Roy recalled had to do with Africa, which until about 1960 was able to produce more than enough food than the population needed. That changed when the population increased and food production wasn’t able to keep up. Africa today is a continent of more than 1 billion people.
Farmers, he said, used “slash and burn” techniques to farm, which damages the fertility of the soil. The farmers would move to an area, cut and burn the trees, farm the land for a couple seasons, then move on, leaving depleted soil behind.
“One thing we focused on is the fertility of the soil,” Roy said. “If we can maintain the fertility of the soil, the farmers can stay on the land and be able to produce. To maintain the fertility of the soil, fertilizer has become extremely important.”
That led to another IFDC accomplishment Roy is proud of, the 2006 Africa Fertilizer Summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
“IFDC also convinced African leaders that fertilizer was important,” he said. “Without fertilizer, you’re not going to reach your production goals to feed the people.”
The summit resulted in the Abuja Declaration, where African leaders agreed on 12 resolutions designed to increase fertilizer use five-fold in 10 years.
“That was a very important accomplishment for IFDC,” Roy said.
Finally, Roy said IFDC used fertilizer to create public-private partnerships in terms of developing economic markets that helped make agriculture more of a business.
Fertilizers help the farmers produce quality products the private sector wants, he said.
Even though he is retiring from IFDC, Roy said he will remain active in the cause of improving food production, especially in developing countries.
“I’m on the board of directors of several international organizations and will work in that capacity,” Roy said. “I would like to work again with nonprofit organizations, perhaps associated with a university, and be able to work in terms of the development process, particularly in developing countries, to get my knowledge out and help some of these institutions address all the challenges they are facing.”
He wants to put some of his thoughts on paper and will be available to assist IFDC if he’s needed.
“On behalf of the IFDC board and staff, I am deeply grateful for Amit’s dedication and visionary leadership,” said Jimmy Cheek, chairman of the IFDC board of directors and chancellor of the University of Tennessee. “He shaped the organization into the holistic agricultural development center it is today. I look forward to welcoming Scott. His distinguished career in agricultural sciences and research makes him an excellent candidate to guide IFDC’s work into the future.”
According to an IFDC news release, Angle has extensive experience in agricultural science research and management. He was the interim executive associate dean and director of the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service and the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
He was a Fulbright Scholar and authored or co-authored more than 300 scientific papers, reports and other publications. Angle received his bachelor and master’s degrees at the University of Maryland and his doctorate at the University of Missouri.
“I am honored to build upon Amit’s legacy and look forward to joining IFDC’s talented staff,” Angle said. “Together, we will continue our efforts to achieve IFDC’s vision of a productive and well-fed world.”
IFDC is a public international organization addressing critical issues such as international food security, the alleviation of global hunger and poverty, environmental protection and the promotion of economic development and self-sufficiency through the use of agricultural technologies including fertilizers and other inputs.
Today IFDC employs about 100 people at its location on the Tennessee Valley Authority Muscle Shoals Reservation and another 800 or so worldwide.
IFDC Chief Communications Officer Sharon Singh said the organization worked in 100 counties since its inception and today is active in about 22-23.