ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15

An expert on rice he worked with quiet efficiency

Dharmawansa Senadhira

July 7, 2007 marked the ninth death anniversary of Dr. Dharmawansa Senadhira. It was on July 7, 1998, that he was killed instantly in a freak road accident in Bangladesh, when "Sena" as we affectionately called him, was travelling in a bus together with a group of scientists, who had gathered in Dhaka, for a seminar/workshop to discuss technology for rice production in the flood plains of Bangladesh.

At the time of his death, Dr. Senadhira, was serving as a senior scientist attached to the International Rice Research Institute ( IRRI), Los Banos, in the Philippines. He was a renowned rice breeder with many years of service as the head of the then Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, of the Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Senadhira was an agricultural scientist who contributed immensely to increasing the productivity of rice in Sri Lanka, by breeding and introducing new improved varieties of rice in association with his team of scientists. This was accomplished through utilizing plant breeding technology and his inherent knack for rice plant selection from among the progenies that he generated. More importantly, in the process he also paved the way for building up of a team of rice breeders and relevant scientists at Batalagoda and other Rice Research Centres of the Department of Agriculture, who are carrying on with gusto, the good work that was initiated by him and his predecessor who was Dr. Hector Weeraratne, of "H-4" fame.

Sena was a simple person with humane qualities and was a popular figure at the Faculty of Agriculture (of the then University of Ceylon, Peradeniya) as well as at Mars Hall where he resided. Sena was a man of a few words, which were made to the point and he lent a quiet efficiency to whatever he did and as to be expected, he ended up with a second- class upper division B.Sc (Agri) degree in 1967. It was in 1976 that Sena earned his Ph.D in Plant Breeding from the University of Davis, California, after a three year period of post-graduate training. Subsequently, Sena rose up to be the head of the CRBS, Batalagoda (the present Rice Research & Development Institute-RRDI), and was in that position up to the mid-80s, when he joined IRRI as a Scientist in the Plant Breeding Dept.

Having joined IRRI, Sena did not distance himself from Sri Lanka. He made frequent visits to Sri Lanka and used to come over and stay at Batalagoda, providing the much sought after advice and guidance to the researchers. He also made use of these visits to meet his friends here. For those of us who visited Los Banos when Sena was there, I am sure happy memories of Sena's lavish hospitality at his home are forever to stay.

Sena's professional work was highly acclaimed here and abroad. He received a Presidential Award in 1982, along with his team of scientists (including his able successor, Dr. Dhanapala) in recognition of their contribution to rice research in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, he also was awarded the FAO CERES Medal, in recognition of his research work. In addition to a number of awards he received later at IRRI, Dr. Senadhira was also nominated for the prestigious Koshihikari International Award offered by Japan and this Award was bestowed posthumously in September, 1998.

Important scientific papers published by Dr.Senadhira were collected with the help of Dr. Dhanapala (former Director, RRDI) and Dr. Sumith Abeysiriwardana, then Director, RRRDI, in 2001/2002 and compiled by Dr. Nimal Ranaweera, then Addl. Secretary/Project Development, Ministry of Agriculture and myself, with the support of Mr. Stanley Senadhira, beloved brother of Sena. This document which is of much value to Agricultural Researchers in general and to Rice Breeders in particular was recently published at significant cost, by Stanley and copies have been sent (gratis) to important institutions, here and abroad, for their use, in memory of Sena.

I sincerely hope that these few lines on this simple but great man will rekindle memories of him in the minds of those who knew about him and also help others to have some awareness of him. May he attain eternal peace.

By Bedgar Perera

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.