Robert F. Chandler, Jr. was an agricultural sciences officer for the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and Founding Director of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC). He was one of a generation of RF agricultural scientists working to eradicate global famine in the decades following World War II.
Chandler was born in Columbus, Ohio on June 22, 1907. He earned his B.S. degree in horticulture from the University of Maine in 1929, and his Ph.D. in pomology at the University of Maryland in 1934. He spent the first two decades of his career in academia, first as a forest soils professor at Cornell University, and then as Dean of Agriculture and Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire. Chandler served as President of the University of New Hampshire from 1950 to 1954.
In 1946, Chandler took a brief leave from Cornell to work as a Soils Scientist in the RF's Mexican Agricultural Program (MAP). He returned to the Foundation in 1954 to become Assistant Director for Agriculture, and was promoted to Associate Director in 1957. In 1959, Chandler established the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, the Philippines, which sought to fight famine in Asia by increasing rice production. Under Chandler's directorship IRRI staff dramatically boosted rice yields through the development of new varieties, including the IR8 "miracle rice." Chandler retired from the IRRI in 1972, and documented the Institute's history in his 1992 book, An Adventure in Applied Science: A History of the International Rice Research Institute.
From 1972 to 1975, Chandler served as founding director of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center, a research institute in Taiwan focused on developing vegetable crops in Asia's tropical regions. The AVRDC successfully developed high-yielding, heat-tolerant tomato plants, as well as other vegetable varieties suited to tropical conditions.
Chandler continued working to eradicate world hunger long after his retirement in 1975. He served as an advisor and consultant for the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, Near East Foundation, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, among others. He received several awards including the International Rice Year Award from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in 1966, the Star of Distinction from Pakistan in 1968, the Star of Merit from Indonesia in 1972, the Golden Heart Award from the Philippines in 1972, and the Order of the Brilliant Star from China in 1975. In 1988, he was awarded the prestigious World Food Prize.
Chandler died on March 23, 1999, at the age of 91. In a memorial symposium honoring Chandler, plant pathologist and Nobel laureate Norman E. Borlaug described him as "one of those pioneers whose boundless energy and enthusiasm--and complete dedication to a cause--helped to make rice available for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world."
The Rockefeller Foundation Agricultural Program Oral History Interview with Robert F. Chandler, Jr. can be accessed at the Rockefeller Archive Center.