Ranajit Bandyopadhyay was born in Jamshedpur, India. He received his B.S. (Honors) degree in Agriculture and Animal Husbandry in 1974 and M.S. in Plant Pathology in 1976 from G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, and his Ph.D. in Plant Pathology in 1980 from Haryana Agriculture University. Bandyopadhyay joined the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in 1980 in India and spent a sabbatical year at both Cornell University and Texas A&M University. In 2002, he moved to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria where he is the Principal Plant Pathologist.
During the past 30 years, Bandyopadhyay has made several significant contributions in research, development, communication and education for the management of seemingly intractable disease problems in many African nations, and in Brazil and the U.S. Demonstrating rare versatility, he integrated technical, institutional and policy options to improve the productivity and safety of crops and the incomes of farmers in Africa. He emphasized multi-institutional, multi-national and multi-disciplinary partnerships to solve complex problems. His involvement in international agricultural research outside of his country of citizenship began in the 1980s with work on sorghum ergot in Africa. Partnering with scientists in Ethiopia and Rwanda, Bandyopadhyay developed resistance screening techniques and identified locally-adapted sources of resistance to the disease in both countries. He collaborated with an international team of researchers from Australia, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, U.S. and Zimbabwe to generate a solid knowledge base on pathogen biology and host-pathogen interactions. He was frequently consulted by sorghum researchers when ergot invaded Australia, Brazil and the U.S. in the mid-1990s and received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the National Grain Sorghum Producers Board and the Sorghum Improvement Conference of North America for his scientific contributions on the disease.
When soybean rust invaded Nigeria, Bandyopadhyay initiated a focused research program to rapidly limit damage from the disease. He teamed with the USDA-ARS at Illinois to elucidate the identity, virulence, and distribution of rust pathotypes in various geographic areas and their virulence on soybean possessing different resistance genes; and developed various methods for resistance evaluation. Bandyopadhyay identified germplasm resistant to pathotypes in Nigeria and these were used to breed a series of rust-resistant high-yielding cultivars that were released in Nigeria, and as breeding stock in the U.S.
Bandyopadhyay has maintained a singular vision on drastically reducing the number of Africans who get poisoned by aflatoxins from the food they grow. Together with his collaborator in the USDA-ARS in Arizona, he improved and scaled-up biological control technology based on the use of native atoxigenic strains of Aspergillus flavus to competitively exclude toxigenic strains and limit crop contamination by aflatoxins in Africa. He and his team collected and evaluated about 50,000 A. flavus isolates from 13 nations following a rigorous selection process to identify widely distributed and locally adapted native atoxigenic groups which were formulated into country-specific multi-strain biopesticides generically named “Aflasafe”. The team engaged thousands of maize and peanut farmers to demonstrate that Aflasafe products are highly effective in reducing aflatoxin accumulation in maize and peanut while simultaneously working patiently with biopesticide regulators. This culminated in the registration of three country-specific Aflasafe products for commercial use in Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and The Gambia. Additional products are under development for Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Uganda, with registration of products expected in Zambia, Burkina Faso and Ghana in 2017.
Driven by the strong belief that plant pathology and biocontrol must benefit people, Bandyopadhyay ventured into areas unconventional for plant scientists. He used a unique mix of development (e.g., “pull mechanism” to incentivize adoption) and business (e.g., innovation platforms for farmer-market linkages) approaches to demonstrate the economic viability and public health benefits of large-scale adoption of biocontrol to lower the aflatoxin burden in Africa. Together with the USDA-ARS, Bandyopadhyay designed an Aflasafe manufacturing plant, secured grants to construct it, and led a team that built the 4-ton per hour capacity plant in Nigeria to meet the growing demand of Aflasafe products in Africa. Two more plants are under construction in Kenya and Senegal. With support from USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he is currently guiding efforts on technology transfer and commercialization of Aflasafe in 11 countries that will benefit millions of farmers.
One of Bandyopadhyay’s lasting contributions is the development of human capacity and laboratory infrastructure for aflatoxin research in Africa to empower scientists from several sub-Saharan countries. He garnered funding for research and training labs and directed creation of these labs in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. Bandyopadhyay has mentored a generation of international scientists that include nearly 60 scientists, post-docs, students, and technicians from 23 countries including 19 African nations. His mentees are now managing aflatoxin biocontrol programs in 11 countries in Africa.
Bandyopadhyay has organized several conferences and workshops in Africa, received invitations to speak at numerous symposia and workshops internationally and contributed to increased awareness among donors and policy-makers of the importance of aflatoxins in human health and animal production and the role of biocontrol as an intervention for aflatoxin mitigation. He was responsible for several television programs and newspaper and popular science magazine articles that highlighted the importance of aflatoxins and the potential value of biocontrol. His extraordinary advocacy and communication efforts have contributed to governments, businesses, and donors making significant investments in aflatoxin mitigation including nearly $50 million for his team’s biocontrol related activities. He advocated in the U.S., Europe and Africa for visibility of aflatoxin impacts on humanity in the developing world and for active mitigation of aflatoxin across sub-Saharan Africa. This contributed to the decision by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund the African Union’s specialized institutional Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA). Bandyopadhyay serves on the PACA steering committee and chairs its technical sub-committee to provide strategic guidance. He also served on several committees and task forces including for APS. Bandyopadhyay’s expertise, dedication, vision and leadership have been recognized with the Agents of Change for Aflatoxin Mitigation Award from PACA for providing a safe, scalable and sustainable solution to a problem that has plagued African farmers.