Prabhakar Tamboli: A Life in International Development

February 6, 2017

Hunger is not only a food shortage problem, Environmental Science & Technology’s adjunct professor, Dr. Prabhakar Tamboli says. Waste, post-harvest loss, and inefficient production are among the factors contributing to food insecurity. The cost of fertilizers, seeds and energy also effect production and price.

While we think of hunger and food insecurity as the result of shortages, it is not the only cause. Dr. Tamboli designed ENST 100 “International Crop Production - issues and challenges of the 21st century” to teach students how to look not just at food production, but other factors such as population, storage, the role of governments, and International donors like the World Bank and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “Even if enough food is secured in a country, it is not accessible to people living below the poverty line,” he says.

Dr. Tamboli brings first hand knowledge to the class. He was a World Bank agronomist for nearly 20 years, traveling to the world’s poorest countries. He helped many countries in Africa and Asia improve their agricultural performance by designing and implementing projects. In addition, he was a Soil Fertility specialist at the FAO, the United Nations agency leading hunger and malnutrition relief programs. At the FAO, he conducted agronomic trials on important crops and developed fertilizer recommendations.

Dr. Tamboli has a passion for development agriculture and has traveled to over 30 countries. His experience in developing countries started in India, where he was born 88 years ago. He is from a modest background but his parents valued education. He wanted to become a doctor and help poor people and was admitted to medical college in Gwalior,  India. But his family could not afford to pay the tuition, so instead, Dr. Tamboli worked at a part-time job and majored in chemistry and biology. He worked hard and was awarded a government merit scholarship for a Masters in Soil Science and Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship for Ph.D. in Agronomy at Iowa State University. 

Dr. Tamboli hopes to inspire and motivate his students to learn and he believes a good teacher can ignite an interest in a student who may have been unaware of his talents or direction. His caring attitude and popularity with students has earned Dr. Tamboli the Excellence in Teaching award from the Dept. of Environmental Science and Technology (2010) and from the Maryland Chapter of Gama, Sigma, Delta Honor Society of Agriculture (2008).

So this is Retirement?

Until a few years ago, Dr. Tamboli traveled to India each winter to lecture at universities and study India’s higher education and agricultural extension systems. In a 5 -year period, he visited more than 15 agricultural campuses with the goal of examining the state of agricultural education in India.  The result was a book he co-authored with  Y. L. Nene, “Revitalizing Higher Agricultural Education in  India: Journey Towards Excellence,” (2011) that examines many of the problems plaguing India’s agricultural universities, including low faculty pay, funding, and governance issues. He says that the Indian agricultural universities will not improve without giving full autonomy to the Vice Chancellors and integrating three functions of teaching/research/extension under one umbrella.

Dr. Tamboli also actively participated in developing AGNR’s International Training Proaram and establishing collaboration between University of Maryland and the State Agricultural Universities in India. Dr. Tamboli has not run out of projects. He continues to collaborate on journal articles, mostly about India’s agricultural outlook, and he stays active in the large Indian community in the DC area. 

He has, though, turned his attention to a personal project that is part memoir and part gift to his granddaughter. He is writing about 5 generations of Indian women in his family, from his grandmother, to his granddaughter. His grandmother was widowed and according to the local culture, was looked down on. She raised her children in poverty and was not able to rise out of it because of the constraints of her culture. She was married at age 7 and died at 50. Dr. Tamboli’s mother had 12 children and was illiterate, but because she was a married women, enjoyed the approval of society even though her family struggled financially.  His wife, now deceased, earned a Master’s degree, and his daughter is a medical doctor. His granddaughter is in college and has independence and a bright economic future.

His hopes for the future? Dr. Tamboli says he encourages his students develop skills critical to learning the challenging issues of the 21st century and how they can address the issues.