‘The development and construction of a simulation model of the growth of pearl millet Pennisetum americanum (L.) Leeke’ would not ring a bell for most of us reading this. Embossed in gold on a blue-covered hardbound tucked away since 1986 at ICRISAT‘s JS Kanwar Library, it reminds us that things which begin in the right earnest always have the best endings. But, for one of us for whom the title rings loud, this is just the beginning.
This hardcover is the doctoral dissertation that Dr Peter Stanley Carberry produced, at age 28, after researching pearl millet growth at ICRISAT in India. Born on a farm in Australia and certain that he was going to be a farmer, Peter, as he likes to be called, did not think he was going to be a scientist who had to worry about farm livelihoods or nutrition security in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
“In my last year of an agricultural science degree at Sydney University someone dropped out of a PhD program being run in India and a lecturer invited me to fill the vacant place. It was an unexpected choice between going back to rural New South Wales or seeing the world and the decision I made set me on the path to where I am today,” Peter told CSIRO in 2013.
His entry into agricultural research may seem fortuitous, but everything else that followed was deliberate, fuelled by passion to know and to make a change. When computers were not household objects, Peter was working on computer models for crops and agriculture systems while at CSIRO. His work led to the development of the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) – a modelling framework, and APSIM modules for many farming systems that include ICRISAT’s mandate crops that continue to be used by researchers of the present day.
“When I was a Research Scholar in 1982, I looked up to the eminent ICRISAT scientists and wondered whether I would ever reach their position. Well, apparently it can and did happen!” says Peter as he reflects on his career to advise young researchers.
After almost three decades at CSIRO, Peter returned to ICRISAT in 2015 as Deputy Director General-Research and was appointed Director General in 2018. He fostered the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) and articulated a white paper envisioning modernizing crop improvement at ICRISAT, which he got funded and implemented.
We will soon bid Peter farewell. One might say his career has come a full circle at ICRISAT, as if almost daring to suggest the end of a journey. But not for Peter, who has a lot of science impact in store. For starters, he is set to assume the office of General Manager of Applied Research and Development at Australia’s Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). In this role, he will invest in innovation for Australia’s dryland agriculture, a mission closely aligned with the Semi-Arid Tropics. GRDC has been a funder of ICRISAT’s research over many years.
Ask Peter what he would miss about ICRISAT and he says, “Everything and everyone! ICRISAT helped form me over 38 years ago. I’ll miss our mission, global reach, committed staff, India and Africa, our beautiful HQ campus, our African offices and, most of all, the day-to-day engaging with ICRISAT staff and its many stakeholders.”
“I leave under the threat of COVID-19 but am confident in ICRISAT’s resilience and leadership under Dr Jacqueline Hughes and our management team. I wish them all success.”