Dr. Chandrashekhar Biradar
Principal Scientist (Agroecosystems) and Head of Geoinformatics Unit
Research Team Leader, GeoAgro & Digital Augmentation|Focal Point, CGIAR BigData Platform
International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA)-CGIAR Research Center
Dr Chandrashekhar Biradar is a Principal Scientist and Research Team Leader of Digital Augmentation and Head of Geoinformatics Unit. His core expertise focuses on the GeoAgro and citizens science/local intelligence for complex system research for accelerating sustainable agroecosystems. Dr. Biradar has multi-disciplinary educational backgrounds with BSc in Forestry/Agricultural sciences, MSc in Genetic Engineering, and PhD in Environmental Science and Space Applications for Biodiversity conservation, then Postdoctoral fellows in Earth Observation. He pioneered multi-disciplinary approaches for quantification of agri-food systems, water/land productivity mapping, land degradation assessment, multi-layer farming, and data driven sustainable intensification. He developed world’s first satellite sensor-based rainfed production systems including irrigated and agropastoral systems. His current research focus on digital augmentation for revitalizing balanced agroecosystems, digitization of agricultural landscapes, excellence in agronomy, and DryArc interface. Dr. Biradar has authored and co-authored over 210 publications including 125 peer review journal article and 25 books/book chapters. He has received numerous awards and honors, including Best Team Initiative, Young Scientist, and Outstanding Scientist Awards. He has led several innovative big-data driven digital agricultural use-cases and deep learning tools and also pioneered new way of biodiversity gardening for transforming urban landscapes, edible food forests and rural livelihoods to enhance vital food systems, support crop diversification, biodiversity conservation and prospecting at several scales and contexts.
Q1. Please share your educational and professional journey?
I am one of the fortunate to born in a ‘village’ called Dhavalagi in Karnataka to an agricultural family. My parent’s ambition was me to become a progressive farmer or get a decent job. They never pushed me study hard to score high or never looked at my marks cards. Anyway my school days were going well and passing all exams as usual. Cleared CET and opt to study engineering, then surprises waiting for me that become a turning point for my education that is the novel by Kuvempu, the Malegalalli Madumagalu translated to the “bride in the mountains” which made me to quit engineering and join Forestry Program at Sirsi under the umbrella of UAS Dharwad. Four years passed without a single boring day then continued my master in genetic engineering at UNH, Solan, Himachal Pradesh. Being a fresh graduate, an ambition to become to IFS/IAS officer, started preparing for civil services without much interest as my ambition was too big at that time to get a job which pays least one lakh/per month but felt not possible with IFS/IAS or any job I could have qualified in that period. Then comes another turning point, long story in short, got an opportunity to peruse PhD in satellite remote sensing at Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS, ISRO) at Dehradun. Then couple of post-doctoral fellowship with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), one of the CGIAR research centre and then at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Ocean and Space (EOS), University of New Hampshire, then served as a research scientist, research professor, and manager in USA while working on number of federally funded, NASA and NIH grants. After serving several years in the USA and while doing so many backyard experiments on growing vital foods in multilayer biodiversity gardening with great success, and I felt like need to shift my to aspects of food secured in developing world, that led to return to CGIAR again in 2013 where my passion for technological innovations for supporting food and environmental security, and beginning of my professional journey towards sustainable agroecosystems and the future smart foods.
Q2. What did attract to you towards Research?
Actually, in several instances since my childhood. The first trigger was when I was working on the national biodiversity mapping project which provided one of the greatest opportunity to travel across the India’s pristine forested landscapes from Western/Eastern Himalayas to Western Ghats, where I saw mesmerizing diversity of life in the forests, then got into an opportunity of mapping the global croplands where got another opportunity explore the world on several field missions across the globe to collect ground truth data for remote sensing classification which indeed provided another view of the dwindling biodiversity in the man-made landscapes, extreme poverty and flight of the farmers across the travelled landscape in Asia, Africa and Middle East. While I am doing professional job on satellite remote sensing based mapping of the global landscapes and food production systems, simultaneously started biodiversity food garden as a sheer need rather passion in the beginning at my backyard in US home. There I observed a small home garden can produce so much food, why cannot this be transferred to mainstream agriculture? My backyard garden become my experimental research station to grow as many food types as possible, lead to growing over 237 types of vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, etc. Then started looking for the opportunities to explore my horizon research and, technology to extrapolate the results to mainstream agriculture that is what attracted me back to CGIAR research center again. The new begin of my research and passion for building an inclusive agro-ecosystems that are ecologically sustainable and economically viable and that could feed the billions sustainably.
Q3. What kind of hurdles did you face in your journey?
Actually None! I have habitat of taking everything positive as ‘whatever happens, happens for a reason and that research happened to be good always’. The dreams are good and big ones are extremely important. You can’t reach them until you imagine it, work hard towards it, and take risks to achieve that dream, in that process probably I might not have given much emphasis to hurdles rather focused on the results. I learned to make something good out of anything and every situation. It’s not what you achieve; it’s the obstacles you overcome, that what defines the successful journey. I have learned to accept the mistakes and hurdles are my greatest lessons to make progress.
Q4. Tell us about one of the moments which changed your perspective towards life?
In fact several instances while working in the garden, the exuberance of energy when connected with Earth, the nature, the soil, interconnected food web, felt everything is connected, life the is continuum – that is what changed my perspective towards life and lifestyle.
Q5. How do you motivate yourself at every morning?
My day start at twilight, least 90 minutes before to sunrise, the brahma muhurta. My motivation starts with thinking to do something good that makes me, my family and surroundings happy. I thrive for watching mesmerizing early morning sunrise, while chirping birds, and buzzing bees makes each morning a quite new and unique way to start the day.
Q6. What was your Thesis topic in Ph.D? Please share some brief about it?
My PhD topic was on “Gap Analysis Modeling and Landscape Characterization for Biodiversity Assessment and Conservation using Geospatial Approach”. It was based on the landscape ecological principles for characterization of the biodiversity and biological richness mapping for national biodiversity prioritization and conservation using satellite remote sensing, GIS and in-situ observations. It was part of the one the keystone project by Department of Space and Department of Biotechnology (DOS-DBT) project by Government of India under the leadership of Dr. P.S. Roy then Dean/Director of Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS, ISRO). My PhD work quantifying the biodiversity gaps for conservation, simultaneously working as a Researcher under the DOS-BDT biodiversity mapping project was real eye opener for role of biodiversity and landscape ecological in continuum of life.
Q7. Which one thing do you want to bring change in the world and why?
I would say it is the Food- the way we grow, eat and dispose. If I look carefully and deep into the food systems, food is one thing that links to every sustainable developmental goal. It is link to health, wellness and wellbeing of the people and the planet. The health is continuum of living soil, what it generates is to support the life on this planet Earth, and the vital foods that connects the continuum. The learn to eat right and live consciously make the earth Heaven.
Q8. How do you see the food sector and lifestyle of post-covid19 landscape?
I think world will not revert to same level it used be in the past, before covid19. The food landscape and lifestyle are going to change drastically. The real disruptions happening in many systems and industries. The future will be more focused on the wellness.
Q9. Which one skill do you like most about yourself?
Think Out of the box to find solution in every problem. I always trust there is solution for every problem.
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