A gentle soul with strong views: Remembering former Board Member Dr Bharati Karsondas Patel

Dr Bharati Karsondas Patel

Dr Bharati Karsondas Patel

She was fun, had strong views, was pragmatic and very outspoken, yet kind and gentle to a fault bearing no ill will towards anybody – this is how former colleagues remember Dr Bharati K Patel.

From being the first Rotary Fellow from West Africa and the first Rotary-sponsored student at Hawaii University in the late 60s, obtaining a Double Masters plus PhD, to her work at the Rockefeller Foundation and ICRISAT, Bharati never relied on anyone else but herself. She never compromised, just achieved and gave back.

A specialist in Plant Protection, Nematology and Pathology, she began her career as a part-time lecturer in the University of Zambia and rose up the ranks steadily in agriculture research. She was a fellow of the Commonwealth Institute of Helminthology (British Council) and the International Agriculture Center, Wageningen, The Netherlands. She served on the Boards of as many as six international organizations and has many publications to her name.

“Bharati was one of three Indian research students at the Waite Institute in Adelaide when I worked there for a short time, in the mid 80s – she was a petite nematologist then. The next time I met her was in Zambia – she was an agricultural advisor to President Kenneth Kaunda. And then she appeared in our midst. What a warm character she was, and what a great laugh,” remembers former Senior Entomologist
Dr John Wightman.

She was the Director of Research of the Zambian National Agricultural Research Systems when she was on ICRISAT’s Governing Board in the late 1980s and joined ICRISAT in June 1989 as Advisor to the Director General. She was an inspiration, a breath of fresh air and great to work with – talking with her was always a lively and interesting affair, recall colleagues at ICRISAT.

She was a pioneer and was known and respected in the international Agriculture for Development community across Sub-Saharan Africa. She was widely respected in the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) community, working on advancing science and technology and higher education in Africa.

She tirelessly championed the cause of women scientists. She was the lead author of The Green Book: A Guide to Effective Graduate Research in African Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development, a hugely popular “how to” manual designed to help women scientists navigate the field of higher education in African agriculture.

She was awarded Ruforum’s Mother of Africa award for her belief in students as ‘Change Agents’ warranting the need to work with and invest in young people towards Rural Transformation in Africa. As a role model, she epitomized knowledge, action, selflessness, independence and equality for all.

“From 2008 to 2016 when I visited ICRISAT on work-related issues, I always tried to touch base with Bharati in Hyderabad. Much to my surprise, she enjoyed playing golf, and we played together several times. I definitely planned to visit her on my next trip to ICRISAT, but I guess I will have to wait to see her again,” says former Senior Economist Dr Tom Walker.

At age 77, Bharati, the one with an indomitable spirit and an irrepressible smile, slept on August 24, never to wake up. Her attachment to ICRISAT continues – a portion of her ashes was immersed in a lake on the India campus.

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